Fireflight

Damian Wright and Claire Raftery

Periplum in association with The Fire Station and the Cultural Spring

Outside The Fire Station, Sunderland

On 23 November 2017

Review by Peter Lathan

The story of the Lambton Worm is a Wearside (County Durham) folk legend which was made into a song in 1867 (so it’s 150 years old this year). John Lambton, son of Lord Lambton, misses church to go fishing one Sunday morning but all he catches is a peculiar-looking creature which he throws down a well as he “wadn’t fash tae carry it hyem.”

To expiate his sin in avoiding church, he went off to fight in the Crusades. While he was away, the worm in the well grew to a terrible size with “geet big teeth, geet big gob, and geet big goggly eyes” and wreaked havoc in the area, eating up livestock—in fact, it would even “swally little bairns alive when they lay doon tae sleep.”

After seven years, John returned from Palestine and fought and killed the beast in the River Wear.

And here Periplum begins its own myth creation. Taking “worm” to mean “dragon”, as it frequently does in English, writers Damian Wright and Claire Raftery, Periplum’s artistic directors, link the dragon / worm’s last burst of flame with the destruction of the city’s industries, shipbuilding, coal and glass, but also imagine it as shining across the generations, revealing past, present and future.

There are also references to things as varied as Spottee’s Cave on the seafront in which lived a shipwrecked foreign sailor who didn’t speak any English and was therefore regarded as a madman, to Sunderland sailor Jack Crawford, the Hero of Camperdown, and—of course!—to the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s football ground.

Fireflight was created to celebrate the opening of The Fire Station, the former central fire station but now a new £3.5m cultural hub for Sunderland, the centrepiece of the developing Music, Arts and Culture Quarter (MACQ). An outdoor performance with an audience of around 1,000 people, it lasted just 30 minutes on a very cold November night, the coldest so far this winter. The audience stood but Periplum made sure that the action happened on scaffolding structures above their heads.

The performance, which was free but ticketed, could have been sold out at least twice over.

Fireflight is made up of a poetic narration voiced by local actors, original recorded music, a volunteer community cast, impressive aerial dance skills from two company members, and the company’s signature pyrotechnics.

And what pyrotechnics! Still and moving; spinning and twisting; lots of dry ice and smoke; manipulated or even carried by cast members; naked flame and spurting fireworks—all in all, very impressive.

The aerial dance, too, is impressive in its integration with the pyro. We have grown used to seeing this form of dance work but not in the midst of, indeed, almost inside of a cage of pyrotechnic fire. It’s hard to believe that the performers could escape without some singeing!

Impressive, and a real spectacle. The Fire Station has certainly burst onto the Sunderland cultural scene with a bang!