Writer: Richard Bean
Director: Anna Ledwich
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Most of us know about the death toll from the First World War and the Spanish ‘Flu outbreak that followed it, but Richard Bean’s bitter-sweet romantic comedy, first seen at Hampstead Theatre in 2016, considers what one of the consequences may have been – an urgent need to re-populate the nation, presumably in readiness for the following war.
Stephanie (not her real name) is a 32-year-old war widow whose biological clock is ticking. She feels a duty to produce a baby, but her problem is that there are no men. There were no sperm banks either in the 1920s, so the best advice that her rather unorthodox sounding gynaecologist, Dr Trollope, can give is to conceive by the traditional method and the doctor arranges for the services of Dennis (not his real name) to do what is necessary.
Claire Lams’ prim and proper Stephanie tidies her bedroom fussily as fast-paced piano music plays in the background, a scene reminiscent of a silent movie such as the one with Lilian Gish, showing at a nearby cinema. Dennis (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) arrives in a three-piece suit as if attending a business meeting and sets out Dr Trollope’s parameters that must not be crossed – no real names, no exchanges of personal details, no kissing on the lips. His approach is strictly professional. When he admits coyly that he has fathered 202 children from 711 attempts, he does so in the matter-of-fact manner of a stud owner selling the services of his star stallion.
Bean grasps at the opportunity to poke fun at English reservedness. Stephanie offers tea and custard creams to her guest and is always battling against her Catholic upbringing as she braces herself for the encounter. Lloyd-Hughes gives Dennis the air of a cold corporate executive. It is hard to believe him when he softens and professes his love for Stephanie, but this endorses the point that the inability to express feelings is a national characteristic. Bean has written a Brief Encounter for an earlier war.
Georgia Lowe’s set, Stephanie’s mirrored bedroom, does not really fit the period, but nor does some of the candid dialogue. Anna Ledwich’s production moves between awkwardness and tenderness as the couple circle each other nervously before agreeing on the kiss that takes them well outside Dr Trollope’s parameters. When the going threatens to get heavy, Bean throws in some very funny lines and he peppers the play with sly double entendres. The charm of Kiss Me is limited and 75 minutes is just about right, but it is a gentle little comedy that amuses and touches in equal measure.
Runs until 8 July 2017 | Image: Contributed