London’s an odd place. Thousands of people crammed together on tubes, buses and trains. Sometimes the same people, day after day. But do we ever stop to introduce ourselves to our fellow commuters? Absolutely not. Yet sometimes, one person can surprise you…
This is precisely what happens to Elizabeth (Victoria Fox) when she meets James (Charlie G Hawkins) at a bus stop. She observes the protocol – no eye contact, nothing. He on the other hand asks her “Can you see fireflies in the dark?”
After initial resistance, she agrees to a drink and they soon end up in a relationship, a tumultuous learning curve for both of them. But throw in Elizabeth’s ex Lester (Hamish Colville) and her escort flatmate Clara (Laura Frances-Morgan) and their ‘perfect’ relationship is threatened by colliding worlds and words.
Fairytales & Fire is writer Craig Henry’s first full-length play and it is incredibly well-observed. A part of me was a little bit shocked how much Elizabeth’s life mirrored my own (not least because I’m a blonde writer), but perhaps that’s why it gripped me almost immediately.
With just four characters the action is intense, especially as throughout most of the play there are just two of them on stage. Each actor is believable, with a distinctive personality and strong chemistry with each other. Fox is feisty but less innocent than she seems and Hawkins is all lad with a slightly surprising secret. Interestingly, Frances-Morgan and Colville have a more believable chemistry, but this is no doubt because theirs is sexual, rather than emotional.
The play does jump around a bit and it’s not always clear exactly what’s going on. Act II is also a bit too short and it feels as though there should be a bit more content before the conclusion, as it seems slightly rushed. The ending itself is a bit predictable, but not until Act II when the characters’ lives start to entwine a bit more and Lester’s intentions become clear.
However, this play does resonate with its audience, especially for those of us of a similar age, living in London who can really associate with the concept: life ambitions put on hold after university in favour of funding a lifestyle. Ex-boyfriends sneaking up on you when you least expect it and wine sometimes seeming the only answer!
It was well-acted, well-written and well-received – a fabulously gripping debut play from Henry and a triumph for Back Here! Theatre.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Fairytales and Fire is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 2 August.