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BWW Review: KISS ME, Trafalgar Studios

Richard Bean's new work, directed by Anna Ledwich, is passionately and heartbreakingly intimate. Stephanie (Claire Lams), a war widow, struggles to reconcile her role as a "modern woman" with her longing to have a baby. She is met by a man, Dennis (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), whose job is to give exactly what she wants most. Their meeting will be the start of an unorthodox relationship in a shifting 1929 London which is still learning to adjust to the new world.

Lams and Lloyd-Hughes are amusingly sexy while circling the bed - which is the centrepiece of Georgia Lowe's set - still wearing their clothes. Her trying to fill the gaps between who they are with awkward anecdotes about her husband, and his failed attempts to block out every detail about herself and her life that she thrusts upon him, act almost like foreplay to the actual development of the story.

Bean's comedic style, albeit ever-lurking, turns into more poignant and sombre tones when he considers the baggage his characters carry. Stephanie's desire to procreate and her respect towards her husband meet Dennis's survivor's guilt and willingness to contribute however he can to a war he could not join. The playwright's biting lines find a well of possibility in Lams and Lloyd-Hughes; combined with the actors' comedic timing and their deep connection with their characters, their performances are raw and whole.

The creative team's choices are both peculiar and interesting. At first glance Lowe's set relies heavily on a simple bed placed centre stage, but the massive mirrors behind have a huge visual role. Lowe plays with the nature of Trafalgar Studios' smaller space by positioning items so that even when the characters have their backs towards the audience, their reflections are constantly visible. This strips the staging of any possible blind side, just like Stephanie and Dennis seem to do during the course of the story.

Matt Haskins' lighting design resonates perfectly with the narrative and Lowe's set. His blackouts and other expedients add a singular and sometimes eerie value to the production, especially when paired with Sarah Weltman's sound design. Her addition of telegraph sounds and other incidental noises help ground its specific post-war setting.

Lams and Lloyd-Hughes's journey has elements of ease and normalcy in their open and thoroughly modern chats about sex, but earns a darker and more sinister edge when they touch upon the subject of war and what was lost during it. Stephanie's husband is ever-present in a framed photo on her nightstand and in her reasoning, while, conversely, Dennis's persona is less than transparent.

The convergence of war and creation, love and hate, passion and apathy, involvement and recoil make Bean's play a provocative, funny and sexually charged piece of theatre.

Kiss Me runs at Trafalgar Studios until 8 July.

Photo credit: Robert Day.

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