Wildefire*** (Hampstead Theatre)

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Theatre

wildefireBoth houses at Hampstead are currently occupied by dramas about the Metropolitan Police. Downstairs, State Red examines the repercussions of institutionalised racism, but Roy Williams’ play shows us a multi-race force that treats women officers on an equal basis with men and, in so doing, he  wisely jettisons the themes of both racism and sexism so that he can focus singularly on the challenges of policing a modern urban community and the corrosive effects upon those charged with carrying out these duties. The play begins with a recitation of the Met’s original charter, making it immediately obvious how far things have moved from what now seems a very naive starting point. WPC Gail Wilde (Lorraine Stanley giving a real powerhouse performance) transfers from Horsham to a deprived London borough, believing that traditional policing methods will be the key to her making a difference in dealing with the area’s problems, chiefly gang crime and domestic violence. The play then charts her journey from wide-eyed optimism to drugged-up disillusionment and despair. This is strong stuff, served well by Williams’ unflinchingly realistic dialogue. However, problems arise when the writing and Maria Aberg’s production fail to match up. Essentially, this is an intimate work, charting one woman’s transformation, but Aberg chooses to enact it on an epic scale. Naomi Dawson’s set of elevated platforms and scaffolding does not seem to represent very much, whilst a couple of scenes with rampaging yobs are not enough to justify this theatre’s cavernous space being left wide open, thus detracting from the real drama and also playing havoc with the acoustics. Solid supporting performances help to drive what remains an interesting and important play, notwithstanding the flaws in the production.

Performance date: 26 November 2014

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