Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Flames at the Waterloo East Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Flames at the Waterloo East Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Flames at the Waterloo East Theatre
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23 May REVIEW: Flames at the Waterloo East Theatre

A year after Meredith’s fiancé, Edmund, died tragically in a fire that burnt his workplace to the ground, she’s still struggling to come to terms not only with what happened to him, but with the revelations that preceded the disaster. But when a chance encounter at Edmund’s graveside forces Meredith to again re-evaluate everything she thought she once knew about him, it becomes clear that what actually happened on the night of the fire might not have been exactly as it seemed.

The first European outing of this new musical from writer/composer Stephen Dolginoff puts us inside the graveyard with Meredith (Abi Finley), and the man who’s been her sole source of comfort since Edmund’s passing, Eric (David O’Mahoney). A scene visualised with tombstones and the helping hand of a vast quantity of smoke (enough to set off the fire alarm*), director Garry Noakes’ vision for the show is realised with few well chosen props that maintain a stillness and simplicity, whilst focussing the mind.

Certainly atmospheric, the set is built upon with classic (if a little cliched) use of pathetic fallacy, which serves to build and maintain a palpable sense of unease. The way the thunderstorm explodes and persists works on a practical level too; Waterloo East Theatre is one of London’s many fabulous fringe venues housed in railway arches, so we’re accustomed to shows being punctuated by the rumble of trains overhead. But with the thunder effects and tumult on stage, the contribution of National Rail is deadened.

Set against the meteorological booms, Stephen Dolginoff’s pretty piano score blends seamlessly with the action, without setting the acting-singing-acting-singing pendulum we so often see into motion. With a musically similar sound and feel to Dolginoff’s earlier Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, it’s not just the score that echoes his earlier work, as even some of the turning points in the story of Flames seem to hark back to it in a move that feels quite inexplicable.

Twists and turns are what defines a show as a thriller, and Flames has them in abundance. But to be truly thrilling, those twists and turns need to be both unpredictable and plausible. With at least a couple of moments where the plot genuinely feels to have been turned on its head, Flames certainly manages the former, though there are definite shortcomings with the plausibility of some of the scenarios. Spoiler Alert! Skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers It seems preposterous that a woman could believe her fiancé had been so transformed by cosmetic surgery that he was unrecognisable to her, a woman who would most likely be able to identify his voice, and pick out his gait and stature in a crowd. And it doesn’t make sense that a woman meeting a man purporting to be her dead fiancé wouldn’t ask a thousand intimate questions that absolutely nobody else could ever know the answer to. Moreover the very notion that someone could commit a hefty fraud involving non-physical cash without leaving behind a digital trail is more than improbable – it’s impossible. Whether or not these assertions still stand when the truth unravels itself, if, as an audience, we’re not convinced by them, it turns a twist into more of a meander.

Despite being a musical that would benefit from more of a critical analysis of the character’s logic, as well as a reality check or two, Stephen Dolginoff’s new musical thriller, Flames, is an absorbing watch that keeps audiences guessing, right until the very end of eighty minutes that feel a lot more like forty.

*The irony of being evacuated from a theatre showing a musical about someone who died in a fire is certainly not missed, and let’s face it, we’d all much prefer alarms to be on the oversensitive side than the undersensitive one. Let’s just call it a one-night-only extra immersive dimension.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Waterloo East Theatre
Dates: 12th May – 31st May 2015

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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