Theatre review: Wildefire at Hampstead Theatre, NW3


wildefire - Credit: Archant

Roy Williams’ drama takes urgent look at state of Met, says Caroline David.

‘When are you lot going to understand you ain’t nothing,’ thunders the voice of disaffected youth to a rail-roaded policewoman in Wildefire - Roy Williams’ uncompromising play about the crumbling state of the Met.

One of the UK’s most prolific and fiercely political playwrights, Williams stakes out the historical context in the opening scene: Sir Robert Peel recites the nine principles of law of enforcement, written in 1829. The narrative then hurtles into the present - a buzzing, chaotic police headquarters where cynical Vince [Cian Barry] is questioning a suspected rapist. Vince’s interrogation style – a mix of coercion and mind-games – is met with constant interruption by idealistic new policewoman, bright-eyed Gail Wilde – nicknamed ‘Wildefire’ [Lorraine Stanley]. Wildefire’s pure motives are quickly corrupted and she is no match for the brutalizing environment of her workplace or ruthless amorality she encounters on the streets - the lies, double bluffs and violence that play out between the met and gang members.

Marketed as a thriller, the genre is never quite earned despite director Maria Aberg’s best efforts to make the multiple-scenes overlap with theatrical foreboding. As menacing, hoodied gang members crawl out of the darkly lit, industrial set by Naomi Dawson, Wildefire’s meltdown becomes a metaphor for the disintegration of the met as a civic ideal. A keynote of gallows humour underpins much of the acute dialogue as characters spit with anger and frustration, loading their recriminations with police slang. The plot is not novel; Wildefire’s disintegration is too swift and strays into the territory of generic imploding TV detectives. It’s relentless viewing. But then, that is Wiiliams’ point. Wildefire is an urgent look at the role of the met following the London riots which we all need to address. Fortunately, a cautious optimism prevails.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Until November 29