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The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars, White Bear Theatre

Conall Quinn
Directed by Alice Malin

Pros: A funny and beautifully poetic script with some fantastic characters.

Cons: The action is occasionally too loud and grandiose for such a tiny venue and some of the accents are not quite right.

Our Verdict: A fairly decent (ish) production of an excellent script.

Courtesy of The Public Reviews

The White Bear is an intimate theatre hidden at the back of a lovely, cozy pub near Kennington tube station in South London. It is a venue which tends to champion new writing and has won several coveted awards in recent years. This play is a newish work from Conall Quinn, a promising Irish playwright who recently won the Stewart Parker Bursary Award for his play The Death of Harry Leon. Much of Quinn’s work and characterisations have faint echoes of a few late, great Irish playwrights – particularly Flann O’Brien, Beckett and Synge.

The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars is set in Ireland during World War II when the beaches along the east coast were littered with watchmen and lookouts hired to report any signs of a German invasion. One of these watchmen is Henry (Gregory Finnegan) – a rather demented, romantic, alcoholic pyromaniac with a penchant for setting off flares without due cause. This kind of behaviour leads to unnecessary widespread panic followed by angry phone calls from the parliament offices in Dublin. Part of Henry’s job is to keep a log of all suspicious sightings but instead his logbook is filled with the ramblings of a deranged alcoholic with very serious daddy issues.

Joining our trigger-happy Henry is a pretentious, sexually repressed and annoyingly middle-class watchman named Edward, played with suitable pomposity by Damien Tracey. The razor-sharp dialogue between the two is most enjoyable and some of the one-liners are very memorable indeed. One criticism I have of the delivery is that both actors are a bit shouty considering the small size of the venue. The characters are supposed to be outside on a beach so I could understand the volume to a degree but it all became a bit deafening at times which seemed entirely unnecessary. Quinn’s play is quite word-heavy and in this production sadly some of the meaning was lost in hasty delivery. If the actors could pace themselves a bit more it would give the audience a better chance to really savour the beautiful details in Quinn’s work.

Keeping the two watchmen company is a free-spirited, lustful local girl called Alice (Clare Fraenkel) who runs away from home several times, even when there is no one left to run away from. Fraenkel is a strong actress who brings great charm and plenty of energy to her role. Unfortunately, an unsuccessful attempt at an Irish accent diminishes the illusion of an authentic Irish setting for much of the play but this is the only fault I can find in an otherwise engaging performance. Her wistful character falls in love with a dead US air pilot who washes ashore one day (and this is where the story skims around the controversial area of necrophilia). The fact that she sees his corpse as a living, breathing man who fulfils her every fantasy gives another interesting aspect to this multi-faceted script.

There are a couple of dramatic and physically demanding moments within the piece which didn’t quite ring true particularly in the moment where Edward slaps Alice in a fit of anger and later when she beats him repeatedly over the head with a rock. Both of these actions felt a little staged and unfortunately didn’t quite work.

Some of the stronger elements of the show include really good set design – a sparse, sandy beach with a couple of props scattered about complimented by great sound and lighting (especially when the flares go up and the whole theatre is drenched in deep red). The costumes too were as authentic and well thought-out as anything you’re likely to see in a big budget west end play.

Overall, this is not a bad production and the script is good enough comically, dramatically and poetically to carry the audience through some flaws in the direction and performance. The main issue here is that the director seemed to choose continuous high energy over any kind of real intimacy and given the size of the theatre and the top class script, this is a terrible shame.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars has now finished its run at the White Bear Theatre.

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