Review: The Fire

The Fire is a short play presented by the good people at NUTS and last week you could have caught it at Studio 1, right here on campus.

That’s right, the theatrical arts are going on around you, in the dank and dingy arts precinct on the northern side of the lower campus. This is theatre by students, presented to you at student prices and (some of it) dealing with student concerns. So it’s cheap, its local and I trust it’s a blast to be a part of, but is it any good?

Let me start by addressing the problem I see with being too critical about student art: the people that put this stuff together are amateurs, they’re working around exams and they’re working for nothing. If we judge productions like The Fire by a professional standard it won’t just appear callous, it could, god forbid, look small minded.

And with this on board, I still find it hard to recommend The Fire. There are nuggets of promise that shine through the murk, like the actors Michael Booker and Jim Gosden, who do their best to bring alive frustrating clichés and broken dialogue; there are some dream sequences too, which are well put together, but the rest of the play is downright crummy. The scenes are too short, the staging is distracting and the story is bland.

The play is set in a rural town, somewhere in Nowhere Australia, and the impending bushfire season sees some local youths concerned that their lives may soon be thrown into turmoil. This much is good and interesting about The Fire, it deals with a very Australian experience that is tumultuous and important. What I struggled with was the very heavy handed way this premise was turned into a kind of metaphysical, and at times confusing, metaphor for coming of age, which I’ve italicised because, as featured here, is textbook derivative.

The Fire is more actually about a young man, Alan (Nicholas Sykes), who is frightened by the world and especially by change. He seeks solace in his friend, Mike (Michael Booker) and girlfriend Ali (Maddie Nunn), but his relationships with them are derailed by his fear of their (his relationships’) implicit end points. Death in other words, or the kind of death imposed by change. Throw into this mixed bag of banalities a schizophrenic brother, a harsh but ultimately well-meaning father and a handful of other poorly drawn characters, and there we have it, 80 minutes of light entertainment for the low, low price of just five bucks.

But the five buck admission price, and also the sense that student art shouldn’t be taken too seriously, makes me want to end this review by suggesting that these criticisms be taken lightly. This isn’t the Belvoir, it’s Studio 1, and these people should be commended for having a go, even if what they’ve produced is unremarkable. At least they didn’t spit on me, subject me to a light show or get awkwardly naked. In other words, I’ve seen worse.

Jack Jelbart