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A CurtainUp London  Review
In Flame

By Lizzie Loveridge

When you're born... you remember everything about God and clouds and all the people who ever lived and all the happiness and sadness... and then after that it's just one long forgetting and forgetting... until you've forgotten everything then you are ready to die so you can be born again and remember everything that you have ever forgotten. 
If you can learn from history, if you believe that we repeat the patterns of the past, you will be fascinated by the connections in Charlotte Jones' new play. In Flame is not one play but two, with scenes intermingled from the years 1908 and 2000. Across a century it tells the story of three women and two men. In Flame has been eighteen months in the transfer to the West End from its inception at London's exciting fringe theatre, The Bush. Much of Jones' dialogue is wry and will make you laugh out loud, but underlying the comedy is more lasting pathos. It can occupy your thoughts in the longer term. 

In 1908, three women live together in Yorkshire, Gramma (Marcia Warren) and her granddaughters, Livvy (Emma Dewhurst) and Clara (Rosie Cavaliero), a simpleton. Gramma is urging Livvy to marry Arthur (Jason Hughes), not a catch but a husband for all that. At the fair Livvy meets Frank (Ivan Kaye), a traveling man impersonating Fabrizio, an Italian photographer, who seduces her. The outcome is tragic for all the family but I think it would be wrong of me to reveal any more of Jones' plot here. In 2000, Alex (Kerry Fox), Gramma's great grand daughter shares a flat with the accident prone Clootie (Rosie Cavaliero). Alex's mother Annie (Marcia Warren) has dementia and lives in a home cared for by nurse James (Jason Hughes). Alex has a long term relationship with a married man, Mat (Ivan Kaye). 

You would think that the twentieth century had brought women more education, opportunity and progress than any other before it. Jones' play successfully shows us how women are still powerless, when sucked into the relationships mire. So Alex is as much sexploited by Mat as Livvy was by her seducer. Annie's life is limited by her terrible delusion, as she is alternately sorry for herself and manic. A century later, Annie's quality of life should be better than Gramma's was but it is not. Whereas Clara is born damaged, Clootie's disastrous relationships leave her feeling inadequate. 

The performances are memorable. Marcia Warren is outstanding as the demented mother, bright eyed and mischievous, singing "I Could Have Danced All Night", but not making any connection in reality with her daughter. The scene where she tap dances is a show stopper. I also liked Rosie Cavaliero's chaotically comic Clootie and simple minded and innocent Clara who listens at old stone walls to hear the past or maybe the future. Kerry Fox strikes exactly the right note as Alex, resigned and exasperated. The audience may laugh at the old lady's antics but Fox's Alex painfully watches her own mother unable to cherish or appreciate her daughter. Ivan Kaye's handsome Frank/Mat characters are charming and feckless, believably unreliable and self seeking. Fabrizio's rendition of the male bird of paradise dance when he is impressing Livvy is energetic and almost tribal. Jason Hughes has more contrast in his pairing, mother's boy Arthur in 1908 but James the nurse's role is more equivocal.

The director, Anna Mackmin, gives us beautiful clarity do that we're never confused as to which era we're in. Tom Pye's costumes, of course, help this delineation; his set is simple and ambiguous -- walls of lit white perspex. 

Bravo to Charlotte Jones and the Bush for giving the West End a really satisfying new play but be warned that men may not like what it has to say. 

Written by Charlotte Jones
Directed by Anna Mackmin

Starring: Kerry Fox
With: Rosie Cavaliero, Ivan Kaye, Marcia Warren, Jason Hughes, Emma Dewhurst
Design: Tom Pye
Lighting Design: Janny Kagan
Composer: Andy Cowton
Choreographer: Scarlett Mackmin
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 020 7369 1791
Booking to 28th October 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th September 2000 performance at The New Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London WC2. 

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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