An unsettling Kiss of Death

Kiss of Death

Kiss of Death, a new production from theatre company Talking Scarlet opened last week at the Grand and proposes to be a hard-hitting modern thriller with dark sardonic humour.

The story goes that a young street-savvy actress who, it seems, has had experience in working with the police or intelligence services, turns up to a meeting with two shady men who work for some kind of crime or investigation unit. The character Zoe Lang, played by actress Ciara Janson (from Hollyoaks!), is taken through a series of improvisational exercises testing her abilities in a plan formulated by the suited-up men to capture a serial-killer called John Smith (creative naming there). In essence, the men want to use the beautiful young woman (and she does have great hair) as bait and she is being auditioned or interviewed as a victim in the making.

The two men, and her now employers, rather over played by Peter Lovstrom and dryly under-played by David Janson (father of the protagonist actress Ciara) are impressed with Zoe Lang’s performance and she emerges in the play now as Natashia Campion, a lost and vulnerable girl who is now put in contact with murderer Smith.

This is where things start to get tricky for me with Kiss of Death and where I started to feel a little uncomfortable. The acting throughout was fine, not terrific and sometimes a little over egging the pudding, but engaging and… fine. The story flowed in a way that drew you through the narrative successfully although I did feel there was an over-use of the video-camera device in which characters were filmed and then projected as a backdrop to action on stage. I realise this can still be a theatrical novelty but it felt tired and unnecessary at times.

What was a little disturbing however is where I found reaction in my fellow audience members to the events happening on-stage. Although this is a sort of comedy-ish, it actually has some dark moments and the main storyline is based on a young woman being used as prey for a serial-killer and her relationship with him and her employers as their words and actions contribute to her psychological demise.  Moments in the play where the main character Zoe Lang was either in serious physical jeopardy or actually on the cusp of being attacked were the moments when my theatre-going fellows in the dress circle were laughing. At one point the character is screaming on the phone that she feels in danger and is about to be attacked, not intended to be a comedic moment in the play, a man next to me just could not stop chuckling. It felt a bit odd to me that it seemed the funniest parts to the audience members around me, which I really don’t think were intended to be the ‘jokes’ of the performance, were the moments when this young woman was in danger or distressed. Furthermore, even though the main character is presented initially as quite a strong individual with her own dominance as both a character and as a woman her strength is then pretty much played out or explored in terms of her sexual connections and her manipulations based on this.

Perhaps I have not fully engaged with my suspension of disbelief or am simply just taking the plays tone, as I experienced it, much too seriously. But I left the theatre feeling a bit unsettled about the characterisation of young females and also feeling the writers could have been a little more clever and sophisticated in their exploration of character in general. Interestingly, I had a conversation with a slightly older woman in the bar after the performance and was just saying a couple of thoughts I have expressed here and she said ‘Well woman are always the victims aren’t they, and it’s funny sometimes’.

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