Kiss Me – Review – East Riding Theatre, Beverley
By Karl Hornsey, October 2017
“I’m 32. I’m 32 and I want a baby”. And so is established the premise of Kiss Me, a two-hander by Richard Bean, which runs at Beverley’s East Riding Theatre until October 28th. Of course things are not so simple as wanting a baby for ‘Stephanie’, played with the perfect balance of self-deprecating humour and inner desperation by Bettine Mackenzie.
Set in 1929, Kiss Me centres on the work, if it can be called work, of ‘Dennis’, who offers his services through a clinic to widows or women whose husbands have been put out of action, so to speak, and are incapable of making their wives pregnant. This one-man sperm bank is played by locally-based actor Edward Cole, whose initial stiff and starchy character is gradually fleshed out through the 75-minute play, as more becomes known about his motivations and life story, and as his relationship with Stephanie develops.
The intimate setting of the wonderful ERT is perfect for such a two-hander, with a simple period set keeping the actors confined, as indeed they are confined in real life by their respective problems. Stephanie can be seen before the play starts, meticulously preparing herself for the visit of Dennis, nervously choosing her choice of outfit, and the initial humour demonstrates another string to Mackenzie’s bow, as she shifts seamlessly throughout, between her role as a thoroughly modern woman, to one revealing her inner demons and doubts.
While it’s never entirely explained as to why Stephanie so desperately wants a baby, given the social stigma and shame that would be attached to her for life, the audience can sympathise with her, especially as the awkwardness of the situation unfolds.
For Dennis’s part, indeed the part of a man who it transpires has sired more than 200 children, the manner in which he progresses from something of an automaton to fully fledged human being says much for Cole’s ability to develop his character as the weeks go by, and, while his reasons for providing such a service need a little leap of the imagination, one feels for him as he and Stephanie inevitably fall in love.
Bean’s play is showing outside of London for the first time and I can heartily recommend it. Bean himself is unsure of whether such practices took place, though there is some single-source journalism that suggests it did, and even so, there is no moral judgement placed upon the two characters, leaving that up to the audience.
Mackenzie and Cole do a remarkable job of keeping the right tone at all times, making the 75 minutes pass quickly and I was left wanting to know more about the characters and how their lives panned out and, judging by reaction on the evening, so did the rest of the audience. The East Riding Theatre has another winner on its hands.
images: Gavin Prest Photography