“What struck most powerfully, though, was the collective soul of their performance”
Four women, dressed in black, stand on a bare stage and for the space of an hour, deliver a passionate diatribe against the twin evils of sexism and racism visited on them daily. They are fierce, they are angry, they are eloquent, and they are young black women.
The experiences discussed here: patronising treatment in white-run offices, dreadful dates with white men who think the women are ‘exotic’, weird assertions of their sexuality and their personalities by black men, were powerfully articulated. They aren’t experiences that I’ve had, but the power and the responsibility of theatre is to make an audience feel things they’ve never previously felt, things that are the experiences of others articulated and embodied by performers. This quartet accomplished that in style. They used wonderfully arranged soul standards, sung a cappella, as leaven in this slightly preachy, torrential statement of their woes. Aretha Franklin songs have only sounded better when sung by Aretha, and their rendition was wonderful.
What struck most powerfully, though, was the collective soul of their performance: lines shared and restated, songs harmonised, movement synchronised, four actors sharing a space and a moment to make a collective statement. They even sighed in harmony. At the end, the audience leapt to their feet in spontaneous standing applause. So many standing ovations are woefully unearned, but this one felt right, like a coming together of actors and an audience that shared their experience. That was quite a moment. Would it have been a better play with less polemic? Very possibly. Would it have spoken so powerfully to the audience if it had been more measured? Almost certainly not.
“Il va falloir beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup d’amour” (It’s going to take a lot, a lot, a lot of love) was social media’s flag of support after the 2015 Paris attacks. It also became the inspiration for Abigail Boucher and Carolyn Defrin’s exploration into the culture, thrill, heartache and compassion of kissing. Over three years, they hosted dinner parties in London, Paris, Chicago and Los Angeles and audio-recorded their guests’ recollections and dreams which started with a kiss. These fragments of lives and sentiments are interpreted through dance, music and illumination in a series of beautifully staged artworks, some melancholic, some funny, but always poignant.
As part of Ovalhouse’s ‘Demolition Party’ Season, before it moves to its new venue, the theatre is allowing final productions to dismantle sections of the building. Connor Bowmott’s tastefully bleak and stripped-down set gives the cast a striking and versatile space to use, its gaping, excavated cavity in the centre of the stage an echo of Paris and a symbol of the damage life can throw at us. With sublimely imaginative lighting by Joe Hornsby and immaculate sound design (Mikhail Fiksel), Boucher and Defrin’s direction creates a series of imaginative and elegantly structured vignettes reflecting the infinite and unique stories which stretch relationships, sensations, time and place.
After chatting cheerfully around the dinner table, recalling and revealing individual anecdotes, the eight contrasting performers use movement, spoken dialogue and song, interlaced with the original recordings. Each brings a distinctive quality to the collective, combining in pairs and groups to transmit a selection of the myriad experiences and feelings in these conversations. Movement Director, Matthew Rawcliffe, skilfully manages to make moments stand still while in motion and to flow from one scene to another. As the memories and secrets unfold, so do the kisses. There is the wish kiss, the shower kiss, the kiss of success, the comfort kiss, the maternal kiss, the lost kiss and the kiss to say hello, goodbye or farewell; we are drawn effortlessly from one to the other.
Although ‘Kissing Rebellion’ was developed against a backdrop of global crisis, that intention does comes across less powerfully than the idea of personal calamity or intimacy. What is stunning in this production, however, is the deep sincerity of the recordings, the poise and self-possession of the performers and the immaculate creativity as an ensemble. This is a very special piece of theatre; it is as if one is walking timelessly around an art gallery, pausing to take in a character or scene and moved by an expression or connection. And as we leave, we are stirred with the reminiscences and emotions of our own kisses.