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A CurtainUp London Review
In the Clare studio space at the Young Vic, the family of actors are onstage as we arrive in the auditorium. Harshly lit Helen Schlesinger as the Mother stares at us as does the Father (David Annen), with his receding hairline and Amish type beard. The effect is unsettling, even sinister. Aimée-Ffion Edwards as Olga, the teenage daughter stands on a chair to deliver her first speeches. The lighting is so disturbing that this attractive girl looks ugly and of course what she has to say isn’t very pretty either. Her younger brother Kurt (Rupert Simonian) has had this dream, a nightmare of being in a tunnel and in intense pain and suddenly seeing a bright light which he is convinced is a memory of his birth.
The parents argue incessantly and, while the mother complains, Hans her husband reads the newspaper at every opportunity, fascinated by the hunt for a serial murderer of prostitutes. At dinner the father raises the issue of some menstrual blood he has found in the bathroom. The parents lie in bed at opposite ends of the stage crudely illustrating their distance. What von Mayenburg does is to show us how the family can be either unknowing or in denial about their own children, failing to make connections between Kurt’s perpetual puberty and Olga’s burgeoning sexuality and the experimentation of both. While Olga talks about sex and finds a bike riding boyfriend, disarmingly played by William Postlethwaite, Kurt is fascinated with the light and destructive power of fire.
The boxed set is made of unpainted wooden shelving with spaces for the children to hide in, like a just unpacked flat pack. The props are of household objects, so the bathroom cabinet being used tells us that we are in the bathroom, where the mother strips off in front of the protesting Kurt. As Kurt tries to cut himself off inside the house he winds red tape around his space in a symbolic exclusion.
With the exception of Paul, there is no love for any of the characters. Even the likeable Paul is treated by the father with such favouritism that we are embarrassed that he shows no such interest in his own children. The performances are convincing but unredeeming.
Fireface is a complex play full of ugliness and Sam Pritchard has developed the ideas in an underlined way, signposting the audience to notice the connections which may reduce the impact of stumbling on them oneself.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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