“Lie back and think of England.”
In this day age, while the inability to conceive can be problematic, there are at least avenues that can be pursued such as fertility clinics and IVF treatment. Now imagine it’s nearly 100 years ago when finding ‘sperm donors’ literally meant having to sleep with a stranger and conceiving out of wedlock meant being stigmatised by society… Writtten by Richard Bean and directed by Anna Ledwich, Kiss Me addresses the plight of women living between both World Wars and what they were prepared to sacrifice to conceive a child post-marriage.
The year is 1929. At 11am at Notting Hill, London, ‘Stephanie’ (Claire Lams) adds the last finishing touches to her appearance before she receives a visitor. The visitor in question arrives promptly – a man of around 30-years-old, dressed smartly from head to foot. Stephanie has an attack of the nerves and asks questions 10 to the dozen, even though this goes against the protocol to protect their mutual identities. The man in question (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) opts to let himself be known as ‘Dennis’ for ‘Stephanie’s’ sake, but her tenacity and effusive natutre set her apart from the other women he has seen in the past, and cracks begin to appear in their mutual resolve to keep silent about details of their lives…
Lams is engaging as the young, war widow, who because of the shortage of men around, drives a lorry for a living and is partial to the ‘rude’ songs sung by the Armed Forces. Yet ‘Stephanie’ (a pseudonym she gives ‘Dennis’) has a certain amount of autonomy in her life and knows instinctively that she doesn’t take action herself, her dream of being a mother won’t come to fruition.
Dennis’ reasons for being essentially a ‘stud on call’ are altogether different and one would think he’s living the life of Riley. But as the play delves deeper into each character, we find his adherence to keeping things on an impersonal basis is less about following Dr Trollope’s instructions (who has brokered this arrangement) but doing what is necessary to keep going and help the decimated ‘Lost Generation’. While Dennis’ ‘activities’ with women whose husbands are dead or ‘broken’ after the War mirrors Mellors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his status and motives are more akin to Jay Gatsby who lacks for nothing materially, yet looks upon the world ‘from the outside’ and lacks the one special person to share his life with.
Of course sex is a ‘messy business’ and Kiss Me addresses the inevitable, emotional connection that occurs between people physically involved over time – and the ramifications when the ‘goalposts’ are moved… For all of its commentary and insights on society, then and now, Kiss Me is at its best when the focus on the self-deception that men and women undergo regarding sex – and whether ‘love’ can truly be extricated from ‘lovemaking’…
© Michael Davis 2017
Kiss Me runs at Trafalgar Studios until 8th July 2017.