Stop Kiss (Unlikely Productions) runs at ATYP from 5 March – 22 March 214. By Diana Son, directed by Anthony Skuse.
Stop Kiss is the third show directed by Anthony Skuse I’ve seen this year, and the third one I’ve adored. If you want to look for a Director of the Year, I think we have an early favourite. Skuse is ON FIRE, yo.
I loved Stop Kiss. I LOVED it. It made me feel, and it made me think, and if a show can do these two things, it has got me, wholeheartedly and uncomplicatedly. This show did both. It is a show about love and a show about violence, a show about pleasure and a show about pain, a show about friendship and a show about something infinitely more agonising. And I loved it.
Stop Kiss follows Callie (Olivia Stambouliah, in a bravura performance), a traffic weather reporter who lives in New York City. She’s agreed to look after the cat of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, Sara (Gabrielle Scawthorn), but doesn’t count on the intense friendship that forms afterwards. At the heart of this play is a kiss. At the heart of this play is a beating. The non-linear structure follows the journey before and after, to the moment where things between Callie and Sara changed forever, to the moment where everything exploded. (The structure reminded me a lot of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, which ends with a beautiful love scene: the scene that sparks many of the horrific events that take place during the book.)
There is so much I want to say about the construction of love and femininity in this play that I don’t think I’ll fit it all in. Stop Kiss is the story of a beautiful tragic love affair, and it made me happy and made me cry. It’s an accurate picture of how things are for women – especially, but not limited to, lesbian women – and that is why it grabbed me so particularly. It’s the story of how hard it is for so many women to admit how they feel: to not say what they DON’T feel, but to say what they do feel. It’s so easy to say what you don’t want, but it is so, so hard to say what you want. (There was a study a few years back that found that most people define their tastes by what they don’t like than what they do. Truthfully admitting that you like something or that you want something is HARD.) It’s the story of a proscribed desire, a beautiful desire, a desire that should be admitted, that rightly should be admitted, but when it is admitted, leads to horrible results, because the world is not yet beautiful enough for it.
There is so much I recognised in this play. So much. The way that Callie struggled to admit how she felt and what she wanted, to confess her desires… that is so familiar. This is not just her desire for her friend Sara, although that is a big part of it. Callie can’t admit what she wants for her career, for her social life, for her life in general. And that is so symptomatic of what women are culturally taught to feel. Michelle Fine wrote in 1988 about the “missing discourse of desire” for girls, a behaviour I think many of us have carried into adulthood. As a straight lady, I don’t share that added burden that Callie has as a lady with lesbian leanings, but… oh god, I recognised so much of myself and of the women I know in her. And in Sara, that woman encouraging Callie to say what she felt, to admit her desires, the woman who reaches for her dreams even when everyone tells her they’re wrong, the woman who refuses to sit down and shut up, to “walk on by” when something is wrong… I’ve been her, too. And being her isn’t easy, and yes, it will get you punished – maybe not as literally as Sara is, but punished nonetheless.
Every so often, you come across a show that speaks to you. I did not expect that show to be Stop Kiss, but it was. I felt like I got this show and this show got me, on a really deep level. There were events in this show I have not experienced (and hope never to experience), but there was so much that I recognised. This show made me laugh and it made me cry not because it looked like my life but because it spoke to my life. This is not the only time an Anthony Skuse-directed show has done that to me this year (I’m looking at you, On The Shore Of The Wide World), and I’m beginning to think he might be a little bit magic.
Go and see this show. Especially if you are a woman in your 20s or 30s, but seriously, everyone, go and this show. Stambouliah and Scawthorn are outstanding, and Skuse has directed an incredible production. If you know what it’s like to have trouble saying what you want or what you feel – to feel like the world is hemming you in and there are things you have to do, because… you know, you just have to – then this show is for you.