Besame Mucho at the Charing Cross Theatre
Performed at the Charing Cross Theatre by Postgraduate students of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts as part of their end-of-year showcase, Besame Mucho is a Spanish play by Javier Daulte currently experiencing its UK debut in a new translation by Simon Scardifield. In a crowded police station lazy, corrupt and mentally deranged police officers spin a web of deceit, love, criminality and violence, sprinkled with petty squabbles and deep philosophy as the play moves through various stages of naturalism, heightened realism, melodrama, farce and murder mystery, arriving at its shocking (though no less confusing) conclusion with a good dose of surrealism.
On reflection, the mixing, matching and overlaying of genres, styles and – at some points – dialogue served the message of the play quite well, although at the time left much of the audience in a cloud of mystery as to what was actually going on. Besame Mucho translates as “kiss me alot”, and a point is made about kissing being “a strange combination of impulse and responsibility” – the same being said for killing. In a similar way, the flow of the action went through phases of organisation and clarity and phases of complete madness, with both kissing and killing featuring pretty heavily throughout.
Despite the play’s convoluted, sometimes hilarious events, it somehow managed to lack tension and a little bit of dramatic “oomph”. This may have been down to the venue, as the Charing Cross Theatre is – surprisingly enough – located quite deep underground Charing Cross Station, offering little ventilation for the haze used at the start of the play to escape, and even less insulation from the noise of over 100 tonnes of train passing overhead every five minutes. Another problem was the lighting design, which seemed to be more preoccupied with the show being a collection of scenes rather than one comprehensive whole. As such, frequent blackouts at key moments cut the momentum short, and the actors had to work twice as hard to get it going again when the lights came back up.
And, boy, did those postgraduates work hard. The dialogue is technically complicated throughout, with overlapping cues and sections of ad-libbing, but at times certain jokes or stilted lines made it clear that the translation was perhaps not brilliant, while some of the performers’ nerves showed through in some rather shouty deliveries. However, the pace certainly picked up during an amazing sequence set in a bar, cleverly suggested using lighting and some high stools. Actors Daren Simmons, Paul Heelis and an awesomely cross-dressed Will Austin distinguished themselves with some excellent comic timing and delivery, while Jamie Monk was funny and heartbreaking as the slightly unstable one who spies on her own colleagues.
Besame Mucho is a confusing watch. One can see why Mountview will have chosen this script for their postgraduate students: all parts are more or less equally weighed, and the dialogue and action are laden with challenges – one character even quips “Well, it all seems logical enough”, to which the audience responded with what was perhaps the loudest laugh of the night. The play does not, however, do any favours to either the actors or the audience, which is disappointing at such an important time in these young actors’ lives. I would like to take this opportunity, though, to wish the best of luck to all the cast and creative team involved in Besame Mucho who will have their work judged by people much more influential than I.
Orestes Daniel Kouzof
Besame Mucho runs until the 11th of August at the Charing Cross Theatre. For further information or to book visit Mountview’s website here.