Meredith and Eric visit the grave of their deceased fiancé and best friend Edmond. Just before he died in a fire, it was publicly exposed that Edmond had committed a wide-reaching crime. On this fateful night a year later the story is reopened on the cemetery: Is everything really as it seems?
Raging fires tend to be devastating, tragic. “Flames”, Stephen Dolginoff’s musical thriller as directed by Garry Noakes is the exact opposite. Its initial awkwardness and gloomy atmosphere soon turn into laughing out loud fun. Which is exactly what makes writing this review such a challenge: this crime musical has led me to solve my own case. Usually I keep away from discussions of a play to avoid clouding my own judgement, but I saw myself forced to embark on an extensive research quest. NOWHERE is this musical marketed as a comedy. Here are some words it is promoted with: “Thriller”, “suspenseful”, “spine-chilling”, “Hitchcock meets Edgar Allan Poe”. In an interview, Dolginoff laments that most musicals are fun rather than pure crime thrillers – another evidence for it not being supposed to be hilarious?
The question arises: Did Dolginoff write an involuntarily funny play or did the creative team at the Waterloo East Theatre decide to interpret it in a new way? Maybe a bit of both: Dolginoff clearly adds too much fuel for hilarity to certain scenes. The musical is positively soap opera material. Moreover, the “terrible fire” was ignited in a wastepaper bin in an office. Here are some suggestions to that problem: 1) trample it out 2) fire extinguisher 3) automated smoke detectors setting of sprinklers 4) push actual fire alarm within that three hour time frame this mini-fire would have needed to become anything close to life-threatening. The audience, however, seemed unfazed by all this: They laughed heartedly throughout. Judging from the general jolliness and the applause at the end, everyone enjoyed themselves a lot.
My relatively positive star-rating derives from the facts that acting and singing of all three actors (Abi Finley : David O’Mahony : Bradley Clarkson) are absolutely solid. The music is played live by a pianist, which is always a pleasure. The twists are exaggerated but never fail to amuse. The theatre itself is a gem which I’d encourage people to pay a visit to. The stage design of the cemetery was utterly sinister and so fogged up, it seemed like a genuine stormy outside location. In conclusion, I had a great evening and a good laugh. No matter what it was supposed to be. It IS a dark comedy, which I feel audiences should be aware of (maybe this genre mix-up was the major plot twist). So, whodunit? Did Dolginoff or the Waterloo East Theatre make it (involuntarily?) funny? I’m afraid Edmond may have taken that secret into his grave.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Flames is playing at the Waterloo East Theatre until 31 May 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets