Writer: Dave Windass
Director: Andrew Pearson
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
In 1981 Peter Dinsdale, a disturbed young man who went by the name of Bruce Lee, was convicted in Hull after he carried out a spree of arson attacks. Writer Dave Windass takes this story as his starting point and creates Firestarter, a fictional drama which explores the forces that can lead an individual to commit such terrible crimes.
With this great material to play with, Firestarter starts well. We are trapped in a small room with the jittery, unstable ‘Daft Peter’, crouched clutching a box of matches as he stutters out his chilling story. For ten minutes or so it’s just us and him. Andy Wilson inhabits the character with a mesmerizing performance which flits between the terrifying and the pathetic. Is he just a harmless fantasist, or is he the ruthless killer he purports to be? We are party to his innermost thoughts, his disturbed memories and snippets of his past. Wilson’s monologue is absorbing and affecting. So when the lights go down and a scene change happens it’s something of a jolt, and what follows doesn’t reassure.
Suddenly we are thrown into the chaotic domestic life of Annie (Zoe Matthews), the father of whose child, Tone (Richard Vergette) has just turned up having been released, not for the first time, from prison. Annie and Tone engage in the worst kind of soap opera bickering which slowly spirals into violence, all with poor old Peter trussed up and tied to chair, having been apprehended sneaking into the house with a can of paraffin. There is a sharp, uneasy change of tone. Both the writing and the performances could be from a different play. Gone is the pathos of Peter’s prologue. Annie and Tone are grotesque and implausible characters, Vergette and Matthews performances are harsh and lack any subtlety.
I’m guessing the device is to throw a spanner in the works, to make us question who’s the villain here, but it’s a clumsy way of spelling out the obvious and the pantomime that is Annie and Tone seriously spoils what initially seemed to be shaping up to be a powerful piece of drama. If only Windass had left it to Peter to tell his own story. Wilson on his own could have created a much stronger, more challenging performance.