There sometimes comes a play that’s nearly impossible to review. Not because it’s so good it’s critic-proof, nor because it’s so agonisingly bad that you’d need a word-count rivaling the complete works of Shakespeare to list all of its faults. Terrible, awful, Shakespeare. Now there’s obviously the spoiler effect, which feeds into the difficulty somewhat, but it’s more to do with the knottiest of topics – subtext. Close to the Wind’s Wolf Kisses, from writer Paloma Pedrero, has this in spades.
Of course, with great subtext comes great misunderstanding, and it seems that while director Natalie Katsou hasn’t necessarily thrown authorial intent out with the bathwater, there’s plenty for the audience to make their own minds up about. The story of Ana (Katerina Watson) returning home from a convent to wait for her lover, fittingly rests on the ideas of reality versus make-believe, which justifies hiding details in the shadows. All of the characters – from her apparently loving but alcoholic father (Jon Millington) and young boy Luciano (Patrick Holt) to Ana’s would-be suitor Camilo (Angus King) – are not at all what they seem, retreating into their own comforting worlds of fantasy to protect themselves. But this is the most on-the-nose point of the play, with Luciano explicitly referencing the fact that “I’d like to be normal, like everyone else. But everyone’s pretending.”
Taking a cue, apparently, from classic poets such as Lorca and Jimenez, the subject matter also has a fair bit in common with Cervantes’ Don Quixote – albeit a version of Don Quixote which involved the windmills as manifestations of repressed sexuality and his donkey a metaphor for familial abuse. While there are one or two laughs, usually from Holt’s overeager, misunderstood Luciano, on the whole it’s a very Spanish piece in its focus on life’s two eternals, love and death, with Egyptian god Osiris forever skulking around.
Ana herself, involved in a love that will never come, is at once naive but also a seductress and manipulator. Whether she’s dancing in her floaty dress, or playing the matador against romantic advances, she can’t escape the male gaze. Both passion and tragedy are undeniably linked, in the reason for Ana’s exile to the tragic finale. Watson embodies both aspects of Ana’s nature well, with a little Electra thrown in for good measure, and with very little staging or props to work with, fills in the gaps admirably.
In fact, each of the four gamely manage their characters’ flaws and secrets against their outward appearances. Millington seems kindly and affable despite his drunken behaviour, but it’s with him that the largest implications lie and there’s always a darkness lurking within. Luciano, the “retarded” boy is sympathetic and imbued with a lightness that works counter to the play’s bleaker elements. And King as Camilo is somewhat of a sad-sack. Katsou brings the best out of all of them, giving the audience plenty of food for thought. The live music from Andrei Ionescu also adds immeasurably to the tone, with heady, sweltering Spanish original compositions and, at times, cute interactions with the players.
Apologies if it seems like I’ve said lots of nothing, but this is really one play you need to experience yourself and draw your own conclusions from. I highly suspect it will be read in a different way by each member of the audience. But have no fear, while the piece might not have the fairytale ending you’d expect from a fantastical work with Wolf in the title, it’s still a magical and at times emotionally complex staging.
Wolf Kisses ran from 22nd to 27th July 2014 at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)
Photography © Rob Youngson Photography