Pros: the set and special effects are really impressive and create a sense of a gritty inner city dystopia, some of the physical theatre is great.
Cons: the plot is pretty predictable and full of clichés about the police service that I’ve seen a hundred times before.
Wildefire is a play about police officer Gail Wilde who is transferred to a South London police station. She starts off full of enthusiasm and good intentions but quickly becomes disillusioned and ground down by corrupt colleagues, gang culture and long hours that ultimately destroy her family and her sanity.
The play paints a pretty bleak picture of the police service today. While many of the issues covered are accurate, writer Roy Williams manages to pack in too much and uses pretty much every cop cliché in the book in the play’s 90 minute duration: the failed domestic violence victim, bent coppers, cover-ups, gang violence, riots, drug-addiction, affairs with colleagues, failed marriage, murdered coppers and madness. I came out feeling that it was a bit disjointed.
There were some really solid performances but none of the characters were very likable and I didn’t get a sense of the camaraderie that is very prevalent among police officers so I didn’t find myself rooting for anyone or really caring what happened to them.
Writer Roy Williams has stated that he intended to put the Met Police ‘under the spotlight’ with this play but I don’t think he did enough research to do this fairly. I spent 5 years working in a police press office and I saw my fair share of the problems the modern police service faces but this play was pretty far away from that reality. It reminded me a lot of the reporting we often dealt with, sensationalist and unduly negative. It would have been nice to see a plot which was more subtle and multi-layered with some more likable characters. While I don’t have another play to compare it to, the depiction of the police in the TV series Babylon at the moment is one for writers and directors to aspire to. It covers the difficult issues but it’s funny, engaging and exceptionally well-researched.
There were some really great bits in the play though. The lighting and stage design was exceptional, designer Naomi Dawson had turned the stage into a gritty inner city area with graffiti and concrete everywhere. There was great use of height with industrial materials such as fire escape steps and bus shelters use to create spaces that were cleverly used to represent different locations.
The special effects used when Gail’s partner is attacked and during the fight scenes were really great, as was the riot scene and the rain storm that poured onto the stage at the end, which was unexpected and added real tension.
The movement pieces were slick, effective and terrifying. There was one part where the gang members rushed in like rats and stripped another character in a few seconds which was shocking and raw – as were some of the other depictions of violence.
The costumes were good but as they were mainly all black (police officers’ uniforms) and grey (gang members in hoodies) I felt that they got a bit lost in the grey background of the stage. It would have been nice to see a bit more colour.
This is an OK play with some real splashes of inspiration. It is worth a watch but I didn’t feel it warranted the £30 price tag.
Author: Roy Williams
Director: Maria Aberg
Booking until: 29 November 2014
Box office: 020 7722 9301
Booking link: www.hampsteadtheatre.com