Over coffee in the Qatar Airways MTC Lounge, Ainsley Melham and Adam-Jon Fiorentino share how they found themselves performing in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
It started with dancing for both Ainsley Melham and Adam-Jon Fiorentino – who play Molina and Valentin in MTC’s production of Kiss of the Spider Woman. As young children, they were lured into the mystique and razzamatazz of their respective dance schools, unafraid of any gender stereotypes attached to the art form. Melham became fixated with tap, which catapulted the young performer into singing and eventually musical theatre, while Fiorentino grew up treating dance like any other sport, all of which he aimed to excel at. Both men gained satisfaction from the effort, improvement, reward cycle.
The musical Kiss of the Spider Woman isn’t a production that you come across every day, Melham says, noting that he only learnt of Kander and Ebb’s lesser-known musical when he started his research to audition for the part of Molina last year. ‘I feel very lucky to deal with this material,’ Melham says. ‘I get such a wow feeling when we finish the show each night. When we do the bows you see how the work touches people. It’s a massive privilege to work for a Company that is proud and brave enough to do pieces like this.’
Fiorentino, meanwhile, was aware of the work over a decade ago, when his agent became passionate about landing him the part of Valentin. He watched the film and shared his agent’s interest in the project, but when no theatre company in the Southern Hemisphere was interested in staging the work, he soon moved on. However, when MTC announced Kiss of the Spider Woman in its 2019 Season, he says it felt like the part was meant to be his.
Challenging topic, challenging roles
Unpacking his extremely complex character was tough though. ‘I researched Marxism and fascism,’ he says. ‘And spent a lot of time contemplating how you might respond in this context. At the end of the day, it’s about what we have [as characters] in common. We teach each other.’
The roles of Molina and Valentin are extremely challenging parts and require an enormous amount of physicality, musical ability, sensitivity and trust. ‘Their mental states are broken,’ Melham explains. ‘They’re not properly functioning humans when we meet them in this prison.’
It’s no wonder these two actors were cast for their unwavering trust in each other, coupled with their on-stage chemistry – they’d spent two and half years touring the ‘joyous, comedic, spectacle’ of Aladdin together. Kiss of the Spider Woman presents starkly different material to the Disney children’s classic, however. As a result, the two men have had to develop strategies to wind down every day from a show that pushes their characters beyond the limits of their humanity. They’ve learnt to funnel the emotion they experience on stage as Valentin and Molina and use it to help process what might be troubling them in their actual lives. ‘For me, I’m proudest when I pop out from stage door and see we’ve incited some change in people,’ Fiorentino says. ‘As artists of any medium, it’s our job to make people think, even in the slightest ways, about how they can change as a person.’
Food for the soul
It helps that on the Aladdin tour, they learnt how to use their bodies as machines, Fiorentino explains: working late into the night, most nights at their optimum capacity. ‘It’s so important not to take it for granted,’ he says, ‘which a lot of people do.’ Even at the end of an eight-show week, if their bodies were aching and their voices were on the brink of collapse, the energy of the stage was able to fortify their performance and pull them through each act. ‘After 20 years of performing I still believe in Dr Footlights,’ he jokes. ‘He can cure any illness or injury while you’re performing.’
‘Performing is like food for the soul,’ Melham adds.
The two men acknowledge their good fortune working opposite one the country’s greatest stage legends, Caroline O’Connor. Melham remembers looking up at O’Connor on stage in Chicago in awe-stricken wonder and thinking, “One day I want to do that.” For his childhood dream to become a reality is something he’s still pinching himself over. ‘This show lets us think about how humans are treated on a world scale. It allows us to adjust the paradigm ever so slightly… It’s the kind of work we live for.’
See Kiss of the Spider Woman at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 28 December.
Qatar Airways is an MTC Major Partner. Genovese is an MTC Production Partner (thanks for the coffee!)
Published on 16 December 2019