Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Arsonists
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court
2nd November 2010

Jim Hutchon was at the first night ...

Director Danny Segeth has taken the very daring step of reworking a Max Frisch play about the abstracts of evil and innocence into a highly-focussed polemic on the very public revelations over the abuse of youngsters in the care of the Catholic Church. And, with his co-director Kelly McGibney, has created an entrancing, powerful and absorbing piece of theatre.
At a time when churches are being burned down around the town, a priest, played with a mixture of innocence and complacency by Chris Piper, is effectively powerless against an evil couple who insinuate themselves into his house and even import petrol and detonator into his attic. First, the sly Jo, played with a real flair for injured innocence by Vikki Pead, then the quietly menacing Eisenring (a peerless performance by Joe Kennedy), slowly unfold the story of his abuse as a child, drawing in the allegations of the priest’s complicity in another’s abuse and suicide.
Peter Nerreter is convincing as the priest’s colleague arguing against appeasement. He is also shown to be culpable, not for his active abuse, but for standing by. The housekeeper confused by her master’s inability to eject the interlopers is Laura Hill. A superb, highly-stylised ‘Greek Chorus’ of firefighters, Steve Parr, Leanne Johnson and Sarah Chandler led the general indictments, and also acted superbly as scene shifters, shifting not the scene, but the players.
The very atmospheric and well synchronised live music accompaniment was composed by Mike McGibney and David Woolford, and the latter also performed it. The set is basically a fire ravaged interior, complete with smoke and ragged bits hanging from the ceiling, but the production, in the round, used an effective lighting scheme to bring that and other scenes into play.


Anonymous said...

Your reviewer Jim Hutchon has rather evaded the point by labelling Mr. Segeth’s reworking of Max Frisch’s original play as “bold”. As both you and Mr Hutchon have said about others in the past, Mr. Segeth is no Max Frisch, and attempting to graft his own interpretation onto Frisch’s beautiful, poetic original creates an ugly imbalance. By so doing, he has reduced the original from the abstract, universal truths about the nature of good and evil into a thin narrative of a small scandal. Surely the whole point of abstract art is for viewers to draw to their own conclusions.
There is no question that the issue of the Catholic abuse needs telling – especially the lingering after effects and the failure to really address the problems, but it must be in its own right. In this version, the rather crudely written additions to the story have had the effect of blunting the clarity of Max Frisch’s universal truths, while missing the target of Catholic abuse or its aftermath. I hope Mr. Segeth doesn’t make a habit of this sort of rewriting – in this context, he is a fairly gifted drama director. If he feels strongly about it, he can write the play and let it face literary criticism in its own right.

Daniel Segeth said...

Dear R.S. (or 'Anonymous'),

Firstly, may I thank you for watching 'The Arsonists' at the Old Court Theatre, your support of local theatre, and in particular CTW is greatly appreciated.

I am afraid to say I am going to disappoint you by not writing an essay. As you point out, I am not Max Frisch. I am also not that kind of Director you might find who will jump into instantaneous defence of his or her work at the mere idea of criticism. This is not to say that I agree fully, partially or at all with your comments, and you are perfectly at liberty to share your thoughts with the wider world; literary criticism and artistic criticism are what keep performing arts, and in particular drama, alive and fresh.

I must say however that I am disappointed that you feel you need to hide your identity. This somewhat 'blunts' as you say, your feedback and I will not comment further as I must be honest and say that 'anonymous' criticism shows a lack of nerve and conviction which makes it hard for me to take this seriously.

If you would like to send this to me privately, I am more than happy to discuss these matters as these kinds of discussions can only serve to improve me in these fields. You can contact me at

Yours faithfully and all the best,

Danny Segeth
Director, 'The Arsonists'

Jim Hutchon said...

I rarely comment on what others say about my reviews, ‘tot homines, quot sententiae’ and all that, but, had I had a bit more space at my disposal for The Arsonists, I might have added a sentence or so along the lines of your correspondent SR.
Try not to dismiss his (or her) comments because they are anonymous, some of the points have validity. I first saw the play on returning from service in Northern Ireland, and saw it as an allegory for the creeping paralysis that the terrorists on both sides were imposing on the province. A friend at the same play saw it in terms of the post-war moral decline of British standards of truth, respect and law and order. Others have responded to it in the light of the 9/11 atrocity or other terrorist action or even the rise of the Nazis. The point is that it is many things to many people, and that, given the wide universal reach of the play, to focus it on a single cause is to deny the audience the opportunity of exploring the holes in its own teeth.
I, of course, stand by what I wrote in the review which I don’t think ‘evaded’ the point. Generally I concentrate on performances and productions, rather than the play itself. To criticise the structure of Hamlet – say - would need a medium to get the message across to the author.
I will now crawl back into my critics’ shell hole and say no more Squire.
Good luck with your future projects.
Jim Hutchon

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