Review: Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre

“This…is…going to happen”

Maybe it is due to some as yet unexplored childhood trauma, but I really don’t like puppets, whether human or animal, I just don’t like ‘em. I can just about cope with Avenue Q type cuddliness, but more realistic ones by and large freak me out which is why I have never seen War Horse. So when a new play by the same company Handspring, was announced at the Cottesloe in the National Theatre, I decided to seize the bull by the horns or the puppet by its strings and go to see Or You Could Kiss Me. This was an early preview and I’m not sure what I was expecting, it wasn’t this.

More often than not I was confused. And when I wasn’t confused I was bored. Despite the rich opportunities, the story is practically non-existent with very few scenes of note as it pursues its fragmented memory play structure, the characterisation felt very weak for the leads and the role of the narrator was by turns baffling and infuriating. A constant presence on the stage (as the only non-puppeteer, Adjoa Andoh actually ends up working the hardest), she is story-teller but also interrogator, teasing the story from the actors, questioning their actions and also given to reciting poetry and prolonged discourses on the nature of memory and thought which all adds up to very little in the end despite Andoh’s best efforts.

There are two sets of puppets, the older and younger versions of both men which looked impressive if you like that kind of thing, variously manipulated by six black-suited and bare-footed people. The dialogue was split between the various puppeteers in a seemingly arbitrary manner: two actors led in the roles of Mr A and Mr B, but not exclusively and it was a highly distracting technique which allowed for very little emotional empathy to be built up. Acoustically, it also proved difficult for me as the delivery was rarely very clear, most often directed inwardly rather than performed out to the audience and so I struggled to make out a lot of what was being said. And I swear I could happily have put the dog puppet, and the man doing the endless barking, in that bin with the cat.

There were a couple of moments when everything finally clicked but these were usually the simplest, with minimal interference: the evocation of diving and swimming was beautifully done and a quiet moment at the bedside threatened to bring a tear to my eye for the briefest of moments. But so much of it was clumsily done: I’m not saying that I wanted to see full-on gay puppet sex, but what should have been a moving first embrace became an awkwardly portrayed huddle of six men with the puppets hidden in the middle; likewise all I took from the final scene was the backs of the puppeteers and the fact that the soles of their feet were remarkably clean rather than seeing the culmination of our journey with these two characters.

Yes, this show is in preview and yes, I have issues when it comes to puppets, but I really don’t see how that much can be changed with Or You Could Kiss Me to make it work better. By focusing so much of the interrogation of the relationship rather than its depiction, it has failed to provide much of substance. And given that so much work was being put into manipulating these puppets and that this formed the main backbone of the show, it was a shame that they were so often obscured, thereby further highlighting the paucity of the material being presented here.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 30th October
Note: there is some smoking on stage

6 thoughts on “Review: Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre

  1. Do you think you were perhaps sat too near for this one? Maybe a perspective from a bit further away would have meant the focus was on the puppets rather than the puppeteers? Though this wouldn't have improved the projection problems.

    Not sure whether I'll bother with this one.


  2. Hmm, hadn't thought about that. I suppose people in the higher levels might have had a better view down onto the puppets. Wouldn't have helped to make it a better play though.

  3. I was up in the balcony and I saw a lot of the same problems. I feel like this was an issue with this show being conceived as "a show we can do with the puppets, solving certain interesting technical problems" rather than "a really compelling human drama, which we can heighten through the use of puppetry." The best Japanese puppet shows I've seen are based on great scripts, but made more poignant with puppets; this show was not quite there.

  4. I had higher seats and agree with all of your points. Most of all I couldnt make out a motive, why did the narrator/scientist/interrogator continually yell at them, what was she trying to get them to do? It was annoying and distracting, not as much as the dog though.

  5. Well I thought the dog was the best thing in this ill conceived production. Couldn't hear a lot of the dialogue and couldn't see a lot of the action (if you could call it that) as it was obscured for the most part by the puppeteers. And why puppets ? Are they the fashionable thing in trendy drama at the moment ? Thoroughly pretentious production. The recent production of 'Holding the Man' at Trafalgar Studios a few months ago was funny and ultimately very moving. Shame this lot hadn't been to see it.

  6. Just posted my own review on Theatrigirl of this – but I have to say all the same issues were there in the performance I saw, well into the run. I quite enjoyed parts of it but thought it utterly failed to fulfill its heart-rending-tears-pouring-down-your-face potential.

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