A couple of weeks ago, when Co-Director and Producer of War Horse said in the main theatre of Bristol Old Vic that we were very lucky indeed to live in (near) a city with so much young theatrical talent, he wasn’t wrong and, with The Tinderbox, the Bristol Old Vic Young Company has 100% proved this rule.
Consider for example, Silva Semerciyan’s script, which takes a seven page fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and turns it into a two hour trip to the Old Vic’s Studio. We’ve read this tale several times and its lack of depth or analysis always surprises (read annoys) me – why does the soldier act as he does? Why does he even want to get close to a locked-away princess he’s never met? Why should this be prophecy? Sermerciyan’s excellent adaptation finally gives answers to those questions left by Andersen’s original. And this, on the 100th anniversary of the Great War! “There are no winners; we are fighting each other!” Very, very poignant.
Or take Hettie Feiler’s accompanying piano throughout the performance – that’s something to shout about, as is Lorenzo Niyongabo’s deep, melodic singing voice in his portrayal of a suitably sinister King, who is always lurking and whittling. His wife, the Queen, is played with regal strength and maternal melancholy by Beth Collins. Man, she’s got issues! Nah, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of these two. Their poor son, the Prince, is brought up to be scared, to desert, to run, Jack Orozco Morrison looking every inch the frightened 19 year old soldier, sent to the front to face death, just like every single other man under the despots’ rule.
How about Dale Thrupp’s Lady in Waiting? You just know that this woman would never have had her own family and Thrupp brings a comically woeful element to the piece. He fails in his job to guard the Princess, a young woman who is in love with geometry and, although she is famed for her beauty (or at least she’s ‘good-looking’), she has a fine mind indeed. Krista Matthews plays a very believable pissed-off, eager and inquisitive 16 year-old Princess, who is horrified on uncovering the truth about her Kingdom. And it’s Fennar Ralston, our Common Soldier, “a Nobody” who, through the prophecy and that there Tinderbox, helps her to realise the misery that her family is responsible for. Princess, he won me over too – well played.
But all of this would have been a whole lot less without the tightness of the ten actors in the excellent Ensemble, who are inner voices, the townspeople, boy soldiers called Tom and royalty from far-flung places, firmly giving an extra thud of energy to the whole show. They are Life. And Death.
Erm, no-one on that stage is over 25 years of age? And many of them a whole lot younger than that? That really is extraordinarily impressive.
Ooh, and may I just add that I took my 7 year old daughter to see The Tinderbox? It’s recommended for age 12+ but, with the odd bit of violence (no blood or gruesomeness) and a couple of swear words (I caught a ‘bollocks’ and a ‘bastard’), it was neither laborious nor unsuitable for her.
The Tinderbox plays in the Studio atBristol Old Vic until Saturday 26th April
– Review by Becky Condron