After the epic War Horse, Handspring Puppet Company return to the National Theatre with a much more intimate, and deeply personal offering. Or You Could Kiss Me turns from the equine to the human, following the story of how two of the founder members of the company met and fell in love. Alongside the autobiographical though is also a trip into the future to explore the end of the partnership as death looms large.
This switching between the beginning and end of the relationship continues throughout the play and makes for a somewhat confusing narrative, never fully conveying the sense of devotion the two built over their 60+ years together. Although the script is weak in places it is perhaps the non vocal performances of the puppets and puppeteers that prove strongest.
Much like their larger counterparts in War Horse, the puppets here manage to convey the deepest of human emotions as the long term couple face being separated at last. There’s also a canine companion that comes perilously close to stealing the show.
Many may have booked expecting War Horse 2, however Or You Could Kiss Me is a completely different beast and there is still some work to be done here.
Following Earthquakes in London it seems to be the season to transform the Cottesloe. For this production the stage is placed diagonally across the pit with runways extending each side. While it does bring the audience much closer to the action it does create its own sightline problems with sections of the action being obscured by puppeteers manipulating the puppets or crouching down in front of you waiting for their next entrance. Some more work needs to be carried out on the blocking to overcome this issue as staring at the back of a black clad puppeteer does for large portions of the play does loose dramatic tension. There are sections that a truly moving however, demonstrating the real emotional centre of the piece.
Perhaps the piece would also benefit from some structure revision, bringing more of the challenges of being a gay couple in 1970s and 80s South Africa to balance the end of life struggles.
Overall Or You Could Kiss Me works well as a demonstration of the role puppetry can play in a dramatic narrative. A bit more thought on the staging, sightlines and structure of the piece would greatly improve the piece and become a more engaging experience.