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Crystal Kisses (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The haunting reality of child sex exploitation is revealed in this latest piece of powerful dramatization produced by Contact. Crystal Kisses manages to encapsulate the perspective of both perpetrator and victim.

The play centres on an ensemble of precocious teens whose defiance mirrors defeat as they succumb to the horrifying ordeal of rape. The swaggeringly belligerent Toyah Natalie Armstrong is the product of a children’s home, her only weapon is her acid tongue that she unleashes through her MC alter ego ’Flame’ to shield her vulnerability. Curtis Cole is alarmingly effective as the young Jay, so uncomfortable in his rent boy skin that even his clothes scratch him. And we witness the ‘inquisitive mind and adventurous soul’ of a naive Ally, played by Mandip Gill, who is abused by not one, but two men who eviscerate her of her innocence before leaving in search of their next conquest.

This is a talented cast of young actors who command the stage throughout with a striking blend of wistful understanding and poignant vulnerability. Props are replaced by physical theatre and the use of silhouettes between soliloquies is extremely effective. The characters are puppets behind a smokescreen manipulated into impossible positions whilst rose petals trickle through their fingers and plastic bags float past their faces. They are Ally’s pain, Toyah’s defiance, Jay’s embarrassment and even Dee’s confliction.

Writers Avaes Mohammed and Sabrina Mahfoud have crafted a sensitive script that deals with the issues with admirable tact. Also present is director Benji Reid’s impressive physical stamp, enabling the audience to pause and absorb the drama without gratuitous sexual references.

With such depth of subject matter it feels at times as though the narrative barely even scratches the surface of the characters and, despite the uncomfortable prose, to delve deeper would have provided the audience with greater insight and understanding into the issue and those at risk. There is beauty in the rare poetic moments and the hard-hitting context behind the façade is almost enough to make you leave the experience behind whilst contemplating the necessity of driving awareness forward.

- Sarah Bloomer


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