Kissing Rebellion (Ovalhouse Downstairs)

The Ovalhouse is closing down, and moving to Brixton. As part of a final “Demolition Party” season, theatre companies and creators are invited to utilise the space in any way they choose, and the Downstairs theatre now has holes in the floor and the walls from runs of We Dig and Gaping Hole.

Kissing Rebellion is a piece inspired by the Paris terror attacks of November 2015, and by the idea of love and loss, heartbreak and healing. Utilising stories and recordings collated by co-creators Carolyn Defrin and Abigail Boucher at dinners in Chicago, Paris and Los Angeles, we see various scenarios acted out in movement and dance.

Poster image of Kissing Rebellion

The first scene is a table-bound discussion, interrupted by mimed eating, smoking, and animated laughter. The subject is kisses: the first, the best, the longest. The one you want to remember. It’s intriguing, but not quite drawing the audience in. Not yet.

Once the eight performers start to explore and utilise the space, pairing up, splitting up, reacting to stories, song, and music, Kissing Rebellion starts to take flight. A mother and daughter. An old man who hugs the cousin he’s always loved, knowing he will never see her again. A dreamer who climbs up in his fantasy to kiss Tom Daley, pre-dive, in darkness. A woman who is “kissing someone new”.

Kisses are intimate, between lovers, families, or close friends. Hugs offer comfort, warmth, even between animals and birds. It’s how we all communicate beyond language and without words. It’s visceral. The songs in Kissing Rebellion are in French, Hebrew, English.

Karen Callaghan in Kissing Rebellion
Karen Callaghan in Kissing Rebellion

Defrin appears in the piece, kicking off the stories in the first scene, singing a lullaby later in the broken space at the back of the stage. She’s joined by Juliette Tellier, Matthew Rawcliffe, Karen Callaghan, Manjushri Jones, Luke Elliott, Olivier Leclaire, and Yemurai Zvaraya.

Characters and performers as young, old, straight, gay, assexual, athletic (in one scene the group have their backs to us, taking all their top clothing off, displaying their muscle movement), vulnerable (two older ladies laugh together, one being pulled back from what can be read as dementia).

Kissing Rebellion is about everything, and about nothing. It’s a brave piece which clicks now and again: the “kiss of the tube doors” in one story evoked not just Paris, but London, and the day I saw the show there had been a terrorist attack on London Bridge just hours before, making this choice of show a surreal watch.

The company of Kissing Rebellion

Connor Bowmott has made the most of the broken space – rags flow down at one side, the cavernous hole becomes a pool and a vibrant dance floor, the lighting by Joe Hornsby illuminates different spaces and is warm when it needs to be, harsh when required, seeking out corners we may wish to hide.

Kissing Rebellion closed at the Ovalhouse on 30 November. Photo credits: Rosie Powell.