Kiss Of The Spider Woman

Published April 17, 2008

Every so often a performance sticks in the mind, pushing the multitude of other very good performances into the recesses of the memory. Will Keen's Molina, one of the two characters in Kiss Of The Spider Woman, is one such performance. Keen was not originally meant to star in the production, replacing Iain Glen in the role in March, but it is certainly a fortunate accident that he does. Matthew Amer attended the first night of the Argentinean drama at the Donmar Warehouse.

Molina is imprisoned in 1970s Argentina for the crime of homosexuality. His cellmate, Valentin (Rupert Evans), is a Marxist revolutionary. The two find common ground and pass the time escaping to the world of Hollywood films, as Molina recounts the action of the film Cat People over a series of weeks. As he does so, and as they connect, the friendship grows.

Here is the centre of the play. It could probably be moved from Argentina in the 1970s and replaced anywhere and anytime, for what is most important is the interdependent relationship that grows between two men locked in a cell together. It is a tale of awakening and a love story.

Keen's shaven-headed Molina, all wrists, correct posture and delicacy – without straying into the realms of comedy campness – knows exactly who and what he is and does not need society to tell him otherwise. He longs to be the obedient wife and mother and, locked in a cell with the idealist reactionary, he has the opportunity to take on this role. He goes to great lengths to protect and help Valentin, while always harbouring a dark secret.

Keen's performance is lilting and languid, entirely convincing and acutely observed. Much as his Molina might keep his house, everything in Keen's performance is in its proper place and put there for a reason; a dip of the elbow to test the heat of the water, something as simple as the inflection on his pronunciation of sandwich.

You can almost smell the sweat and rot from Ben Stones's prison set, all tall bars, peeling walls and dirty sheets, and John Leonard's clever sound mixes prison noises with a film soundtrack and, before you realise it, the suspense-filled, hold-your-breath silence that accompanies the pre-attack moment in every good B-movie.

Kiss Of The Spider Woman runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 26 May.

MA