>kiss me like you mean it by escape theatre ltd

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 22 apr 2004
>time: 8pm
>venue: the arts house at the old parliament
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


It reminded me why I love theatre. Let me rephrase that: It reminded me why I love words. How they can be read or heard and fall into place together to create a story, a story with people you care about, people you know, could know or would like to know. And these people are put in a situation that makes your heart and your mind ask questions about the simple things and the difficult ones in all our lives.

KISS ME LIKE YOU MEAN IT by British playwright Chris Chibnall tells the story of twentysomethings Ruth and Tony who meet at a house party thrown by mutual friends. People get drunk, throw up and do embarrassing things. And somewhere along the way, in a garden outside the house, Ruth and Tony slowly fall in love. Except they can't be together because wisecracking party girl Ruth has got a fiancé and Tony, who pretends to be a bit of a rocker dude but is really just hiding an awkward and insecure interior, has a girlfriend. Enter Don and Edie, a middle-aged couple whose passionate sex-life and drinking games hide a dark secret that eventually shocks and then inspires Tony and Ruth to live and, more importantly, love.

Watching this play reminded me of reading a good short story where the focus is on the characters, the dialogue and the single turning point from which the story draws its power. To be fair, there is little that is unpredictable about the plot. From the moment Ruth and Tony start to banter, you know that inevitably they will fall in love. And even in terms of the single turning point I mentioned, when Don and Edie reveal their pact in the second act to die together if they cannot live together, it is a decision that has been telegraphed in various looks, phrases and awkward silences since the beginning. But this is no Agatha Christie mystery, so it doesn't really matter. Even if the twist can be seen from a mile away, it would take a hard man not to have a lump in his throat as Don and Edie talk about their life together that has led them to make this decision in light of Don's illness. The journey itself is well-mapped by Chibnall's unpretentious script, which is both funny and moving, the snappy one-liners and hilarious set pieces of the first act eventually giving way in the second, to what I can only describe as the theatrical equivalent of listening to a million romantic adult contemporary pop ballads.

>>'The journey itself is well-mapped by Chibnall's unpretentious script, which is both funny and moving'

The simplicity, sincerity and skill of the script are matched by two truly outstanding performances by Carina Hales as Ruth and Leigh McDonald as Edie. Both women inhabit their roles completely. Looking at McDonald's illustrious credentials in the programme, it is easy to take her sensitive, intelligent and utterly impressive work for granted. She met the high expectations I had for her going in. Hales, however, is a true revelation. This young actress has shown range and versatility in various roles over the years but it's always seemed as if she's been looking for that right part. She nails it here. Not only does she, as she has before, transform into a different person on the outside but this time she brings a deep understanding of who her character is that has clearly been internalised. From a single look on her face, you can tell what she is thinking, what she is feeling. She is Ruth through and through and never wavers, giving the part the energy, life and truth it needs.

Their male counterparts, though, achieve considerably less success with their roles. Relative newcomer Phin Wong playing Tony is well-cast and has a certain charisma about him but is ultimately outclassed by the ladies. He lacks the weight they bring to their roles. Where Wong falters, though, one suspects, is more a matter of experience than ability for he is spot-on in a number of places and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. I know Gerald Chew who plays Don is not without his admirers and supporters but I have generally not been able to appreciate his work thus far and it is no different here. That goofy charm and TV acting voice can be endearing but also cartoonish and, either way, were wholly inappropriate here and made him seem like he was in a totally different play, especially in his scenes of verbal sparring with McDonald which often misfired.

Mark Waite, making his directorial debut, does a creditable job, especially in terms of drawing out good performances from his cast. Having the audience seated on three sides of the stage also allowed for some interesting staging, especially in terms of positioning the lovers, the apartments and the gardens at different points of the plays but this did get unwieldy at times and a lack of closer attention to blocking and sight-lines occasionally caused serious problems.

Inevitably with a play of this sort, the question comes round to setting. Leave it in England or try to bring it over to Singapore? It's always a hard call to make but I felt here that it was unnecessary - especially when the actors all spoke good, clear universal English - to make the switch to Singapore, and it was certainly a mistake to do so so half-heartedly. The play would have been none the worse if set in England and perhaps arguably better in a non-specific setting. Still, Waite did a better job than most of the ham-fisted attempts that I've seen recently.

All in all, I think Escape has produced another solid piece of work, not earth-shatteringly brilliant but not reneging on earlier promise either and continuing to take small steps in the right direction. Big brother Luna-id may still be outrunning it but Escape seems to have learnt to walk a little faster.