Fires Our Shoes Have Made

We are living through a renaissance of plays in verse, and if you need proof I can furnish few better than Fires Our Shoes Have Made by Fringe newcomers Pound of Flesh Theatre. Writer Oscar Sadler’s electric new script is rightly billed as ‘gig theatre’, the latter-day musical of the 21st century, featuring live instruments and sound mixing on stage, along with original music and lyrics by Mollie Tucker. Unlike traditional musicals, and even the defining works of the emerging genre, the songs of Fires Our Shoes Have Made take a backseat to the relentless drive of the story, told primarily by Joe Matty as the thirteen-year-old Jay, entirely in rhyming verse – and if that sounds stodgy and old-fashioned to you, it’s not. Less Shakespeare, more hip-hop.

The sheer volume of language and intensity of the performances make it impossible to sit back

It’s a great credit to the playwright and company that this is not a one man show. Another, inferior version of the story could be, but the cast of four around Matty add immeasurably to the story despite speaking much smaller percentages of the text. Lucy Chamberlain does phenomenal work as Saskia, Jay’s eight-year-old younger sister. Jay and Saskia’s mother died six months ago, and they’ve been sent to live with their previously absent Dad. Jay wants to run away, and he won’t leave Saskia behind. They are far enough apart in age to live in different worlds, and Matty and Chamberlain portray the gap and the bridge between them expertly. Jay looks up to hard and violent men like Crow (one of a number of roles played by sound artist Luke Mott), bringing a knife along on the escape. Lucy retreated into dreams when their mom passed, loves her big brother but is scared of London at night, and loves stories.

One of the highlights of the show comes when Jay comforts Saskia with the telling of her favourite (not particularly comforting) story. Invented by Sadler but told in a highly convincing mythic style, the Baragadon is a sort of creation myth that speaks directly to the experience of grief, which builds from an attempt to sooth Saskia into a barrage of sound and anger and sadness. Chamberlain’s performance of a child character was both impressive and grounding in a play where Jay sometimes appeared much older than his thirteen years.

While the performances and the sentence-to-sentence writing of the play were both stellar, the narrative arc could definitely use some more work, which I sincerely hope it gets. The ending felt very abrupt, compared to the extremely well-paced build up, and the focus on knife crime felt underexplored and slightly shoehorned in, especially compared to the beautiful portrayal of grief and its knock-on effects. There was also a slight fantasy element which didn’t quite work – a few moments contributing to it went over my head, but the central scene which stood out was a portrayal of a shop keeper the kids had known and were now stealing food from was portrayed as a goblin by Mott. While his physical performance was interesting, the bit as whole felt more like a distraction than a contribution to the story.

Overall, Fires Our Shoes Have Made is incredibly engaging, and will absolutely have you on the edge of your seat – the sheer volume of language and intensity of the performances make it impossible to sit back.

Reviews by Alex Bailey Dillon

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Excalibur, equipped. School, skipped. Six months ago, when they lost their mum, their names shot past the sun and echoed through the stars. Today they become the greats they’re destined to be. A journey through a city like London: one with trolls and warlocks, goblins and knives. For 13-year-old Jay and eight-year-old Saskia, this is the biggest quest of their lives. A mash-up of gig theatre, live foley and hip-hop-influenced slam poetry, this modern fable takes audiences to another world. Pound of Flesh won three awards at NSDF 2019.

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