Writer and Director: Craig Henry
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
The first full-length play from BackHere! Theatre co-founder Craig Henry, Fairytales and Fire connects the interweaving love and sex lives of four young twenty-somethings. Elizabeth and James meet at a bus stop in London. She’s a hardened TFL hater, while he’s not afraid to let his imagination run wild and doesn’t see the problem with talking to strangers at bus stops. In many ways an unlikely romance, the couple are soon spending all their time together, a fact which is magical for James and far too intense for Elizabeth. Flitting back and forth through time, we are also introduced to Elizabeth’s best friend Clara, who works as an escort in order to pay her way through university, and one of Clara’s clients, Lester, who just happens to be Elizabeth’s ex.
All of the characters in Henry’s play, barring Lester, who veers a little too much toward the posh bounder cliché, although amusingly so, are well conceived and believable. Elizabeth and James’ relationship is especially touching and actor Charlie G Hawkins is very good at capturing James’ eye-popping, delirious joy at finding himself in love, especially during the brief monologues that he delivers directly to the audience. The rest of the cast are also very good, with Victoria Fox perfectly portraying Elizabeth’s mixture of up-tightness and naïve confusion, while Laura Frances-Morgan is excellent at showing Clara’s more vulnerable side beneath the hardened exterior. Despite the fact that his character is the shallowest and most one-dimensional, Hamish Colville does well with what he has, and his Lester is often very funny.
While the play is largely strong in its exploration of sex, love and relationships and the blurred lines between the three, things start to falter a little when the play becomes too self-referential. Lester, struggling to complete his romantic novel, confides in Clara that he doesn’t know how to end it, and is torn between a happy or sad ending. It soon becomes clear that this is Craig’s own struggle, and the ending; an attempt to tie his and Lester’s problems neatly together, tries to be a little too clever and ends up proving quite dissatisfying because of this. Henry is clearly a talented writer and director, and his play is both confidently written and fun to watch, it feels as though he has taken the easy way out with the ending though and that something more decisive and dramatic would work better, as would a stronger title.
Despite this, there is much to be admired here and Henry and the cast have managed to tap into some real truths, which had several members of the audience nodding along in agreement, about the realities of love, loneliness and passion.