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Wildefire

Roy Williams
Hampstead Theatre

Fraser James (Don) and Lorraine Stanley (Gail) Credit: Ellie Kurtz
Wildefire Credit: Ellie Kurtz
Lorraine Stanley (Gail) Credit: Ellie Kurtz

There is a danger when writing a play about policing today that the writer might merely end up rehashing one of the dozens of cop dramas from around the globe which appear on TV each week.

When there is so much material already available, it is difficult to find a fresh voice and new angle to get the punters talking about what it means to work for the Metropolitan Police in 2014 and also how those that they deal with view the force.

Roy Williams has written Wildefire with the intention of creating an exposé of the trials and tribulations faced by the typical police constable in these difficult and confrontational times.

His main focus rests on Lorraine Stanley's Gail Wilde who, as the play opens, is transferring from Horsham to the Met in the hope that she can gain serious career progression. This not only reflects her ambition and optimism but also the difficulties that husband Sean, played by Danny Dalton, faces having lost his high-street banking job.

In the opening scenes, Gail is enthusiasm personified, putting on the nice face that the police rarely show in any TV or film drama. She is positively gushing, which contrasts with her much more seasoned and cynical colleagues, epitomised by Ricky Champ playing ultra-cynical Spence.

This seems too good to be true and that quickly proves to be the case, following scenes with hardened criminals and youngsters who enjoy nothing more than making trouble for the boys (and girls) in blue.

The evening features a good cross-section of the usual suspects: a rapist, a battered wife, a boy gang, a CHIS or covert human intelligence source (informer to you and me), coppers who take the law into their own hands and Gail's own unruly but unseen teenage daughter.

A tragedy hastens an inexplicable personality change transforming Gail into a pill-popping caricature of her earlier persona, after which she becomes as nasty a piece of work as anyone on either side of the legal fence.

This is quite hard to take but fits in with colleagues who also seem unable to maintain consistent characters through the 90-minute duration of the play.

For example, a loyal and committed sergeant with 20 years' experience, Fraser James as Don loses out on promotion thanks to a raid that goes badly wrong in somewhat unlikely fashion and immediately becomes uncontrollable.

Wildefire does have moments in which one can begin to understand the predicament the police officers face today as they struggle to gain respect from colleagues, let alone those out to cause mischief. It is also moving following the central tragedy around which the drama unfolds.

However, there is little on show in Maria Aberg’s production to suggest that the play gets any further under the skin than much of the competition on prime-time television.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher