Holding Fire! – September 2007


By: Jack Shepherd

Directed by: Mark Rosenblatt

Venue: Globe Theatre

Date: Tuesday 11th September 2007

This play was about the Chartist movement in the early 19th century, another historical period I know little about, so again the play was interesting from a purely informative point of view. The idea was to show a personal story against the social upheaval of the times, the personal story in question being that of a poor girl from London who is given a job as scullery maid by a wealthy woman, but who ends up on the run with her potential lover after he kills the cook who’s been trying it on with her. As a story of ordinary folk, it’s perhaps a little lacking in ordinariness, but it was interesting and did bring out some of the social aspects of the time. However, the main weakness of the play was that the two threads never really intertwined satisfactorily until the very end, when the killer is hanged for the murder but refuses to give away any of his Chartist mates in order to have his sentence commuted to transportation.

I found it hard to hear all the dialogue today, but I did manage to get the gist of what was going on. There were several scenes which worked very well, particularly the rabble rousing by the Chartist speakers (there were enough people on the ground to create a good sized audience for them), and the one scene where the presence of a large cannon, primed and ready to fire, made the speaker back down from causing a riot. The soldiers were probably disappointed – they’d been straining at the leash to fire the thing for several minutes, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

I also enjoyed the poor family conning money out of the rich woman on her expedition to help the less well off in society (father lies dying in his bed until the money’s handed over and the woman’s left, and then he’s up and off to spend it all having a good time – no wonder they’re poor) and the Convention scene, where several characters were dotted around the gallery, talking lumps out of each other and not getting on with the job in hand. A number of other scenes were enjoyable too as was the music, some of which we recognised, presumably from our folk music interests. I didn’t enjoy the prize fight bit, which was really an opportunity for two of the toffs to talk about the lower classes and the need to apply military strength to handle the situation. That was entertaining enough, but the fighting didn’t appeal.

The performances all seemed pretty good although with such a wide scope of events, there wasn’t as much detail as I would have liked for some of the characters. For example, Friedrich Engels, then a student, is in the pub scenes, which does allow for some of the arguments to be heard, but he isn’t involved so much in the rest, so his participation seems to peter out. Craig Gazey did another excellent job of bringing the murderous boot boy to life, with a lot of humour in his performance, and despite all the doubling there were a number of other little gems, but on the whole the production was a bit unfocused. A couple of people needed medical attention during the afternoon, which didn’t get in the way but was a bit distracting, and I hope they’re all well now. At the end, a couple of rolls had been left on the stage, on a back corner, and given the number of pigeons around the place it wasn’t long before they started attacking them. Sadly, I found that more interesting than watching the play, but then I’ve always been keen on feeding the birds.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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