Bush Theatre Winter 2017-2018
This is a play that starts and ends strongly but loses its way in the middle, and has to fight to regain its focus.
Kat is a woman driven by despair at the state of the world to make a powerful gesture of opposition – she is going to set herself on fire outside Parliament.
The first third of James Fritz's 80-minute play shows Kat making the journey to London while carrying on an internal dialogue (one side played by a separate actress) fighting her moments of wavering, and climaxes with her lighting the flame.
A blackout leads to the discovery that someone saved her and she lies in a hospital bed, horribly burned but alive, and the second movement of the play shows the long and painful process of recovery and rehabilitation.
The third act races through the following fifteen years to see what lasting effects her action had.
It's that second sequence that is the play's weak link, though not because it is poorly written or played. On the contrary, the story of Kat's recovery, the support of her family and the work of a sensitive but demanding physiotherapist are moving and dramatic enough to displace the story of why she did it.
As a result playwright and actors have to struggle through much of the final half-hour to get the play back on track.
It does get there, eventually, with an ending that is shocking and truly right-up-to-the-last-minute surprising. And so the play ultimately succeeds, but it was touch-and-go there for a while.
That director Jude Christian struggled with the play's structural problems is evident in differences between the published text and the acting version, and she hasn't succeeded in reconciling the very different subjects and styles of the three sequences or in papering over the cracks between them.
As Kat, Esther Smith plays what amount to three separate characters in three separate plays, and does all three well. Her greatest accomplishment is not in making all three believable as the same character, but in showing, particularly in the last act, that the woman herself has trouble believing that all three of those women were her.
A solid supporting cast is led by Kelly Hotten, perhaps too strong for the good of the play as the therapist, Lois Chimimba as the more determined of Kat's inner voices, and Seraphina Beh as the passer-by who saved Kat and turns out to be the most affected by her.
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