2 October 2023

Review: Kiss of the Spider Woman

By Rachel Sloane

Gallery Players at the Gallery Studio, Ipswich (Review first posted https://suffolktheatre.co.uk )

Friday 29th September 2023 

Written in 1976 as a novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman is set in an Argentinian prison cell. 

A Marxist revolutionary, the homophobic Valentin (played by Ben Maytham) and his cellmate Molina (Dean Wales), gay and imprisoned for gross indecency, skirt carefully around each other, not daring even to brush against each other. 

Molina’s side of their cell bursts with his personality… a domestic haven of food, (supposedly from his beloved mother’s food parcels), enamel jugs and pans, a Primus stove for boiling water, with fringed shawl and colourful blanket on the bed. Molina has also personalised his plain prison clothes using colourful silk scarves as a belt and a headband, and wafts a feathered fan, against the heat. 

Perched in his austere corner of the cell, Valentin attempts to read his political books whilst really listening to Molina relate in detail the story of a film he loves, Cat People, the 1942 movie. Re-enacted for this play, (Ellena Woolf playing the sultry femme fatale), the black and white film flickers behind the floor-to-ceiling prison bars at the rear of the cell.

Incredibly well-acted, and imaginatively produced (by Helen Clarke), the production uses only a central portion of the stage so the claustrophobic life of the cell-mates is apparent to all.   

The intensity of the play draws the audience in, always aware that the baton-welding, beret and sunglass-wearing Warden (Richard Spencer) is watching from behind the enclosure  at the side of the stage. Even without lines like ‘my friends are all screaming queens like me” Molina’s mannerisms and language make his sexuality obvious, to Valentin’s discomfort. 

With the intimidating sounds of the jail, and the flashing lights and klaxons when it is ‘lights out’, this production, and the developing tenderness and friendship between the prisoners, grips the audience. It is a shock to us when it is revealed by the Warden that Molina has been planted in the cell to learn more about Valentin’s revolutionary plans. 

The developing friendship eventually turns to a closer and physical relationship between the men, and audience members held their collective breath as they watched Molina and Valentin consummate their new-found love under a prison blanket. 

At the end of the play, we learn that Molina, after being released into the community carrying a message from Valentin for the revolutionaries, is followed by the authorities. Eventually, perhaps unaware, he leads them to Valentin’s comrades, but he holds the final card as his life is ended. The Spider’s Web is complete. 

This is a play rarely performed and negotiations were needed to get the Performing Rights.  The lighting design, sound, costumes, staging, filming, direction, and most of all acting, confirms that The Gallery Players really deserved the faith that was placed in them to perform this play.