Wildefire

Theatre, Off-West End
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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A new play from politically charged writer Roy Williams about the state of our police force.

It is entirely understandable that one of Britain’s foremost black playwrights has mixed feelings about the London Metropolitan Police. Unfortunately that conflict has led Roy Williams into ballsing up the sort of play he should be able to write in his sleep.

The clankingly-titled ‘Wildefire’ follows Sergeant Gail Wilde (Lorraine Stanley, miscast) as she transfers in from Horsham, hoping to see a bit more action in the Met. She will soon get more than she bargained for, but not before a strong opening half-hour taking us behind the scenes of a south London police station.

From ‘Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads’ to ‘Sucker Punch’, Williams is one of our finest chroniclers of working-class culture. His decision to show the Met at a station level to be a working-class, racially integrated unit, especially in 2014, is both striking and important in a city where so much power now resides with rich white guys.

Williams is also sympathetic to the terrible pressures of the job and the culture of heavy drinking it engenders: the constant grind of cases coming in, beaten women who won’t complain about their partners, street snitches playing mind games.

But of course there’s no getting away from the Met’s appalling reputation post-Stephen Lawrence, and poor Gail suffers an Icarus-like fall from grace following the stabbing of her partner Spence (Ricky Champ).

The trouble is, she goes so far off the rails and at such demented speed that it becomes impossible to work out what the hell Williams is trying to tell us. If being in the Met sent every police officer this crazy, the army would have been called in a long time ago. ‘Wildefire’ becomes a weird, disjointed beast that seems to be about a woman losing it at the pace of a Greek tragedy, rather than a critique of the Met. Williams’s determination to craft a protagonist who is both sympathetic and embodies the worst of the force’s excesses has spawned a heroine completely lacking in credibility.

Matters are not helped by Maria Aberg’s direction, which has a stylish avant-garde edge that looks great but only serves to accelerate the second half’s haemorrhaging verisimilitude, as scenes collapse into each other and Gail stumbles around in a surreal fog of guilt, anger and painkillers. Sadly, ‘Wildefire’ is a misfire.

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