Kiss Marry Kill review – a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale of love behind bars

<span>Redeemed by love? … Dauda Ladejobi and Graham Mackay-Bruce in Kiss Marry Kill.</span><span>Photograph: PR</span>
Redeemed by love? … Dauda Ladejobi and Graham Mackay-Bruce in Kiss Marry Kill.Photograph: PR

Basing a play on real events offers a safety blanket of authenticity, but the facts of a story being true is not always enough to make us believe in them. Dante or Die’s new production about a homophobic gay man in prison is packed with energy and built on significant research, but the storytelling skates over the surface of the knotty topics it tackles, and struggles to make its complex characters come alive.

Kiss Marry Kill tells the story of Jay (Dauda Ladejobi), imprisoned for life for murdering a man he started hooking up with, out of fear his friends would find out. To the clang of prison beds being stacked together, and the rapping of Lady Lykez, Jay hastily forgets his pregnant finacee at home and embarks on a relationship with charming fellow murderer Paul (Graham Mackay-Bruce). Inspired by events that are stranger than fiction, the show draws on the story of Mikhail Gallatinov and Marc Goodwin, both convicted for murdering gay men, who became the first same-sex couple to marry in prison.

The show was made in collaboration with forensic psychologists, academics and prisoners, but the overly simplified characterisation makes it hard for us to truly understand why Jay and Paul behave as they do. Neither fully reckons with their past actions, and their progression occurs in wild, unexplained leaps rather than carefully drawn steps. We meet Jay as a man so disgusted by and afraid of his attraction to men that he kills a stranger in a blind rage, yet it takes little more than a handsome Scot flirting with him to swiftly transform him into a soft and gentle soul, happy to relax into the chest of his new partner. Is he suddenly okay with his queerness? Is their love meant to redeem them?

Perhaps it was the choice of material at such a drastic end of human behaviour that makes it so difficult to get under the characters’ skin. Perhaps it is the speed at which the story moves. There remain many unexplored depths within this touring production – but it raises intriguing questions about the extent to which love can transform someone’s morality.

• At Stone Nest, London, until 27 April. Then touring to 19 May.