‘Hot White Kiss’ // James WF Roberts

‘Hot White Kiss’ was provocative.

There is controversial and there is James Roberts’ Hot White Kiss. Condensed from a longer work originally produced for Cracked Actors’ Midsumma Festival and adapted from one of the writer’s poems, Hot White Kiss stands as a cautionary tale, a representation of how abusive, how toxic people can be. Hot White Kiss opens with an allegorical poem, which is telling of the writer’s background as a profound poet. It then launches straight into the heavy subject matter. An audible gasp expressed the audience’s shock. Hot White Kiss is certainly not one for the faint-of-heart, or anyone who does not feel comfortable being exposed to such discussion should steer away from this one. We are introduced to two women sitting, both have been through a lot, both addicted, one warning the other of the third character we were about to be introduced to. Later we find all three of the aforementioned people are completely insufferable. The dialogue leaves nothing to the imagination and the audience are treated to violent and sexual discussions and a raw, uncensored depiction of a heroin overdose.

Roberts presents a unique, albeit important perspective of abusive behaviour, that it exists irrespective of one’s past, present, orientation and gender. The three main characters treated each other equally as awful, yet each had their own challenges which they blame their behaviour on. The audience is presented with the prospect that anyone has the potential to treat those around them terribly, and to hopefully walk out the theatre making a pact not to. Hot White Kiss provides an in-your face portrayal of the worst in people, and how one’s circumstances are not an excuse for it. Roberts does an exceptional job questioning the current model society uses as an explanation for such behaviour.

However, a trademark of Roberts’ writing is his inclusion of overtly sexual terms. Hot White Kiss had many explicit discussions of topics that cannot be published. These references became excessive and at times obsessive to the point where they detracted from the rest of the script as they seemed out of place with the conversation taking place. Blurring the lines between art and obscenity can certainly have its place, though at times I felt unnecessarily prudish.

The play was carried by the phenomenal Paolo Bartolomei, whose performance as John truly surpassed any expectation. His sheer ability to identify the multifaceted themes of the script and portray them through his physicality and emotion is a sight to behold.

This play was cast beautifully, with actors who deduced and interpreted the script’s main takeaway, that one can be kind to and cruel to someone interchangeably. The actors who played Cilla and Leena should both be applauded for this.

Much praise should be bestowed upon the set, props and costume designer for their ability to evoke the environment one would picture the characters in. The set design was simple, a set of two well-loved lounge chairs, not unlike what you would have found in the Gatwick. This set remained intact throughout the performance and serviced the multiple spaces created throughout the show. A few props were transformed by the actors into everything that was needed to carry the show. The challenge posed by the tiny performance space was solved effectively by the lighting designer, who kept the space in a cold wash that was balanced by blackouts and strobe flashes to emphasise the impact of addiction.

Theatre this controversial is hard to come by these days, several people walked out, others were shocked but watched intently. Many of us would want a script like Hot White Kiss banned and boycott the theatre that staged it. At most critics would write their desire to do this which in turn draws more attention to it. However, plays like this should exist, because they draw attention to the worst in humanity. In a play its just acting and mostly harmless, but when it happens in real life it has very real consequences. Next in store for Roberts is to perform the full-lengh play and then he wishes to adapt Hot White Kiss into a film.

‘Hot White Kiss’ performed at The Butterfly Club until March 23rd 2024. For more information follow James WF Roberts on socials.

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