Fired Up

KIERAN CORCORAN: ‘Fired Up, like a prostitute you couldn’t quite afford, leaves you confusedly contended and wanting more’.

banks corcoran Mashiter new writing other prize

ADC Theatre, 10-13 November, 11pm, £4-6

Directed by Chloe Mashiter

[rating:4/5]

Chloe Mashiter has made a Herculean effort this term and, third show in, has truly hit her stride. Her cast were thoroughly competent, and ascended to moments of brilliance, but were weighed down by the occasional clunks of a script that didn’t always play to its strengths.

I’m still not entirely sure what Annabel Banks’ Fired Up was ‘about’, but this is no bad thing. Without Themes clouding our hungry little view, we were offered a lucid peek into the lives of four people we’ll probably be a lot like in five or six years’ time.

Jessie (Brid Arnstein) has just broken up with her boyfriend, Pete (Mark Wartenberg). She goes to a party with her BFF. Ex is there, ex’s best friend (also an ex – what is she like?) is there too. Alcohol is consumed. A mixture of dialogues and monologues follow, featuring every possible pairing of characters except Jessie and Pete. Curtain call. Everyone claps.

The decision not to force Jessie and Pete back together onstage left the lattice of couplings pleasingly incomplete, showing a restraint and tact also observable in the many savvy-yet-subtle theatrical touches this production employs.

However, there were times when the text was clearly a limiting factor. The opening scenes set a high standard of pithy and believable dialogue, but took their role of introducing the characters too seriously, dipping at moments into tartily overt EXPOSITION. Hearing best friends give each other potted summaries of their lives for our benefit broke the naturalism a tad.

Banks’ attempts at ‘literary’ touches similarly killed the mood. You know, similes and that. Cheesy and ham-fisted, these poeticisms might do well in a bad panino, but in Fired Up they jerk us away from the easy undulations of speech where the dialogue is most at home. A laboured comparison between relationships after a break-up and trees after a forest fire was particularly cringeworthy. However, expecting rhapsodic lyrical brilliance from a student writer is perhaps a little uncharitable, and despite these gripes the script hangs together remarkably well, which is an achievement in itself.

Although prosaically-named, Jessie, Sam-the-BFF (Georgina Terry), Pete, and Robin-the-best-mate (Howard Taylor) were consistently engaging and watchable.  Arnstein played Jessie with an appropriate self-regard and a vulnerability tinged with anger – she was also a remarkably convincing stage-drunk.

The interpolation of flashback monologues from their childhoods deepened each character significantly, as well as being compelling theatre in its own right. These moments allowed the actors to shine as their childhood selves; Georgina Terry pulled off a particularly winning ‘boys are icky’ speech familiar to any of us who’ve been a six-year-old girl. Impressive in adulthood as well as infancy, Terry’s Sam threatened to break out of the strictures of her sidekick role. Drunk-minder, agony-aunt and straight-talker by turns, her sensitive and versatile performance made me want her as my best friend. Tactical deployment of her much-lauded “pulling top” has nothing to do with this (actually it’s Jessie’s top, but they’re BFFs so it’s totally cool).

A brief word of warning to the penny-pincher – the show is only 35 minutes long, and you may wonder how it could possibly warrant your precious, precious fiver. But size isn’t everything (so my doctors reassure me), and Fired Up, like a prostitute you couldn’t quite afford, leaves you confusedly contended and wanting more. Unquestionably the term’s best play with fire in the title.