The Fire Within

CAITLIN DOHERTY is jack-booted by nothingness in a production with ‘no famine of acting talent’.

George Johnston india new writing Oliver Soden olivia crellin Patrick Garety raj

ADC Theatre, 19-23rd October, 7.45pm, £6-8

Directed by Olivia Crellin


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‘Irish Writer’ Patrick Garety has created a script which deals with Themes. Olivia Crellin has inserted Pauses between some of these Themes and the result is The Fire Within. Though this production aims for the crumbling grandeur of the best of Merchant Ivory, it strikes a note more in accordance with Roger of the Raj – an unfortunate mixture of confused post-colonial historiography and bloated speeches about the nature of being really repressed and British.

Like Yeats, Garety seems big into symbolism. Unlike Yeats may have managed however, Garety is unable to transform his metaphors about passionate bees beating their wings furiously against a spider’s EMPIRE of web into contextualised poetic observations on the decline of the Raj.

These ‘set-piece’ speeches occur too frequently to be excusable and inevitably result in one character psycho-analysing themselves at the other, until both reach a stultifying position of I’m-not-even-acting-anymore boredom. This is a real pity as the dialogue – when it occurs – is the production’s strongest point, throwing up some sardonic one-liners and revealing Garety’s talent for the naturalistic portrayal of everyday family conversation.

There is no famine of acting talent in this production, though Oliver Soden (Mister Lambert) deserves praise for being the only cast member to pull off anything close to genuine discomfort in the heat of the play’s location. All that pre-Partition rowdiness must have raised the temperature of Rajasthan considerably in order to account for the characters’ continual shock at just how hot India seems to have become lately.

George Johnston, as Charles, succeeds in playing the many silences of the production to an awkward advantage, as the father who cares but is ultimately too reserved to be effectual in any family conflict. Susanne Curry lends her matriarch an air of approaching breakdown, while Beatrice McKechnie, as Eve, is made to say things along the lines of: ‘India is more colourful than England but that doesn’t mean the natives are bad people, daddy.’ Edwin Ashcroft, playing James, vocalises the thoughts of the audience by the second half when he delivers “Come on Eve, let’s not have an ideological debate” with an audible sigh.

Unfortunately, overly-complicated stage and set design, as well as counter-intuitive blocking, deflate any moments of emotional climax before they even have a chance to begin. Often such instances are poorly choreographed for the space and seem under-rehearsed. A greater attention to the characters’ independent physicalities would not have gone amiss on Crellin’s part. Aimless wandering around the stage is rife and little work appears to have been done on the portrayal of age, status and personality in the various family members’ physical performances – a crucial detail when working with a cast composed entirely of student-age actors.

Garety’s play is an attempt at something different from the usual student-writing fare. It is at least, as the playwright himself points out in the programme’s notes, not about ‘terrorism or world politics or some such matters’. Yet the creation of any kind of theatre is a political act and as such demands that its creator takes some responsibility for the ideological message that the work carries. The Fire Within has no such message and this failure to engage convincingly with any debate over post-colonial British identity, or the legacy of the Empire means that Garety’s face probably won’t be appearing on an ‘Irish Writers’ tea towel any time soon.