Review: Kiss of Death. Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Kiss of Death by Simon Williams

Directed by Karen Henson

The Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2021

Tabs Production and Theatre Royal Nottingham

Tuesday 6th July – Saturday 10th July

Kiss of Death is the third offering in the Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season 2021. Unusually, it feels less ‘classic thriller’ and more ‘contemporary chiller’, with its erudite script, labyrinthine plotting, and genuinely shocking tableaus. The accomplished cast comprises of Anna Mitcham (Zoe Lang), Jeremy Lloyd Thomas (Bernard), Cameron Johnson (Brocklebank) and Andrew Ryan (John Smith).

The play begins in an old lecture theatre, furnished with a giant screen, two desks and standard office paraphernalia. Suspense builds as we hear the discordant ticking of a clock. Actor Zoe Lang is attending an unusual improvisation workshop where nothing is as it seems. She initially meets the inscrutable Bernard, who sits at his desk sporting dark glasses and giving monosyllabic answers to her questions. Seemingly, his job ‘does not include making conversation’. At first, the audience finds humour in the ‘imperturbable’ Bernard (yet remains suspicious of his actions and motives).

Eventually Zoe finds herself auditioning to be the bait in a police plot to trap a real-life serial killer, known as ‘The Surgeon’. Whilst taking on the role of young runaway, Natasha Campion, she meets the sinister and manipulative John Smith. ‘The lost sheep is stalking the tiger’, but the stakes are high and there is danger ahead for Zoe.

When the setting changes to John Smith’s derelict flat, the tension is ratcheted up. This reviewer recognises the level of detail that has gone into making the ‘basement’ genuinely creepy – the damp mouldy walls, peeling wallpaper and boarded-up windows adding to the menace. Clever use is made of a single hanging light bulb, which intermittently both illuminates and distorts the characters and what they might be telling us.

The audience roots for Mitcham in her portrayal of the feisty Zoe with her ‘spunky attitude’.  We want her to succeed in bringing ‘The Surgeon’ to justice, but with all the double crossing, double dealings and double bluffs, will she succeed? Literary allusions are plentiful from William Blake’s The Tyger to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Blake’s poem warns us not to get too close to the ‘tyger’ and there are plenty of dramatic moments along the way when Zoe ironically takes ‘the battle to the enemy.’

Ryan is completely convincing in his role as John Smith, both sinister and pathetic. Watch out for his entrance, a genuine heart-in-mouth moment. In addition, Johnson provides an imposing presence with an equally imposing voice and brings necessary authority to his role as Brocklebank. Meanwhile, Lloyd Thomas plays the apparatchik, Bernard, in the first instance as pure irritant, but the tenor becomes more nuanced as the action progresses.   

Like the characters in the play, the audience must keep their wits about them. There are diversionary tactics from unexpected quarters, and we are never sure what or whom to trust. It is a credit to both the writing and the cast that we are kept guessing. Although the play is set in the year 2000, the issues it addresses are still very much in the news today, including violence against women, breach of confidentiality, and psychological scarring. This makes the performances extremely hard-hitting in places.

If you wish to see a thriller with a difference, then Kiss of Death is the one for you, being much less Miss Marple and more Line of Duty. It is not what this reviewer was anticipating and is all the better for confounding one’s expectations.

Running Time – 90 minutes (no interval)

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