Set in the aftermath of WW1, where the devastating effects of conflict extended beyond the bloody battleground, Kiss Me addresses the universal wartime dichotomy of life and death in the intimacy of one bedroom. Framed, correctly, as a love story, this is by no means a light-hearted affair. Like many women in wartime Britain, Stephanie, played by Claire Lams, is a young widower, and at 32 desires a baby. Dennis, played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes, having worked in Barbados in the sugar trade, inadvertently avoided fighting and is left with a raging guilt and yearning to offset the wealth of suffering and destruction with love and life that his physically able body can provide.
A complex concept to be explored in 75 minutes, this production is fiercely impressive in its capacity to deliver an emotional journey which is arguably impossible to not be swept along with. Strategic mirrors on stage provide the entire audience with intimate insight into every gripping moment. With brief piano interludes and fleeting blackouts providing the basis for scene changes, a brief encounter between Stephanie and Dennis develops into a complicated relationship which transcends the act of conception alone. Stephanie presents herself as the epitome of a ‘modern woman’, driving lorries and openly discussing the anatomical aspects of sex. Her character is endearing and genuinely amusing, while Dennis slowly comes out of his shell as a man self-destined to repopulate a broken nation. Ben Lloyd-Hughes, as Dennis, manages to tread the challenging line between a maintaining a professional demeanour whilst subtly unravelling endearing, if not multifaceted characteristics of his own.
Stylistically, Kiss Me is authentic, engaging and a refreshing take on this era, away from the battlefield or the patriarchal political system. Unfortunately, the climax of the play doesn’t do justice to what’s preceded it, and I was left feeling slightly discontented with the ultimate outcome for both characters, who by now I felt intrinsically connected to. This is testament to Lams’ and Lloyd-Hughes’ acting ability – within mere seconds on stage their presence and skill were explicitly apparent, which made for a comfortable, immersive and enjoyable watch. Kiss Me is romantic, tragic, hilarious, intelligent and provocative, and guaranteed not to disappoint.