8th and 9th February 2018
Writing: Finlay Carroll (Year 13)
Photography: Isaac Shenoy (Year 13)
Editing: Alejandro Ortega (Year 13)
Originally written in 1953 by Swiss playwright Max Frisch, The Arsonists felt like a fitting finale to the Year 13 Theatre students’ body of work. This performance of the darkly comic tale, with its obvious yet inevitable ending, gripped its audience from start to finish and showcased the very best of the group's acting ability. Heavily influenced by the epic theatre movement, Frisch's play shows eccentric businessman Mr Biedermann (which translates from German as ‘Everyman’) inviting two suspicious men into his home, despite living in a town plagued by arson attacks..! It quickly becomes clear to the audience that the men plan to burn his house down, but still Biedermann lets them store barrels of oil in his attic and even provides them with matches to conduct the dastardly deed.
Intended to examine the ability of fascism to slip into the lives of ordinary people, Frisch’s play has a new resonance in a society dogged by the threat of terrorism. The transition from hilarious ignorance to horrific tragedy and new paranoia in the play initially reflected the cultural transition taking place across Europe during the Second World War. The modern equivalent to this was well conveyed by the group's use of high-vis jackets, which served to powerfully evoke contemporary news footage of emergency services responding to atrocities. Indeed, following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, the words of Frisch’s Greek tragedy-style chorus of firefighters seemed to echo the calls for more definitive action that regularly accompany headlines of disasters and attacks. Whilst the firefighters spoke the truth to power, their warnings fell on deaf ears and the Biedermanns blindly continued onwards to their tragic fate. The end of the performance drove this message home, as the company removed their costumes to reveal ordinary clothes and poignantly chanted in unison ‘woe upon us’.
The group's staging, with raised decking along the back, really pushed the drama forward and created a sense of intimacy and urgency. Kieran Roy’s Biedermann was hilariously dry right from his opening line until the end and this really highlighted his naive ignorance. Adam Bosher’s arsonist, Eisenring, was as criminally camp as he was unnerving, whilst Freddie Tadman showed range in playing both a constipated police officer and a tormented intellectual. Natty Wilson and Jen McCallum were exceptional as Schmitz and Babette, demonstrating strong characterisation through their physical and vocal choices. Finally, Matthew Goodwin-Freeman grounded these performances with his portrayal of Adam, the exasperated servant of the Biedermanns.
Having seen this group perform the same piece earlier in their A Level course, it was inspiring to see how much they had progressed. Laughs came easily and each actor shone in their role. It was a fantastic piece of theatre to round off the work of a hugely talented set. They would like to thank their teachers, the technicians, and everybody who came along to support them.