Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 5 – 22, 2014
Director: Anthony Skuse
Playwright: Diana Son
Actors: Olivia Stambouliah, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Aaron Tsindos, Ben McIvor, Robert Jago, Kate Fraser, Suzanne Pereira
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield
One of the main things explored in theatre is emotion. We ask, what are these different things we feel, how do we create these feelings, how do we differentiate between cheap and authentic sentiment, and how do they affect our lives as individuals and collectives? Stop Kiss leaves its audience with such emotional intensity that these questions come to the fore. Diana Son’s script tells the simplest of stories, but its unique structure in terms of a non-linear timeline, and an unusual depiction of romantic love, keeps us enthralled, and speaks deeply to the most basic humanity in us all .
Under Anthony Skuse’s wonderful direction, Stop Kiss is both theatrical and sincere. There is masterful use of space, which gives the production a sophisticated aesthetic. In spite of budget constraints, the show is a handsome one. Set design is thoroughly considered, and elegantly executed by Gez Xavier Mansfield, and lighting by Sara Swersky is subtle yet varied and effective. The many scene transitions are established with elegant flair. We jump around in time and space with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.
The love story and its romance are managed with restraint. Skuse deliberately downplays a lot of the drama, so that its powerful concepts work overtime in our heads. Like a striptease, we are only ever given just enough information so that our minds can conjure up all the salacious details on their own. The cast benefits from this sense of inhibition, as it allows for a somewhat ironic magnification of their inner worlds. We seem to obtain a better insight into what people are thinking and feeling when they are prevented from doing too much.
Gabrielle Scawthorn’s performance as Sara is marvelous, culminating in a final scene that can only be described as heartbreaking. The character she has created is not only believable, we find ourselves in constant need of seeing more, and knowing more. Her work is equally committed whether playing light or dark, and she tells her character’s story with careful compassion that is beautiful to watch. The connection Scawthorn makes with her audience is as intense as Sara’s falling in love in the story.
Olivia Stambouliah plays Callie with vivacity and complexity. Her energy keeps the show uplifted and dynamic, and her focus is magnetic. There is a steely determination in her performance that is at times impressive, but at others, slightly distracting. The actor sometimes works too hard but her final moments onstage are truly remarkable, and intelligently crafted. Ben McIvor has two memorable scenes as Peter. He finds a balance between tenderness, frustration and despondency, and portrays a character that is empathetic and immediately affable.
It is probably not a rare occurrence that tears are shed in the theatre, but the emotions in Stop Kiss are exceptional. We cry because we understand that true love is precious and rare, but we also cry in the knowledge that homophobic violence is widespread and alive. The play ends in a dark place, but it thankfully leaves us with a morsel of hope. Tears can be self-indulgent, but they are also the beginning of every important and necessary change in the places we live. This play may not be obviously political, but one hopes that its gentle approach would have an effect on those who have yet to be converted by our more strident preachers.