The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre February-March 2015
Like the best political drama, Dalia Taha's Fireworks makes its points indirectly, condemning a war through depicting its effects on the day-to-day lives of innocent victims. What keeps it from the ranks of the best political drama is that it makes all its points very quickly, and has little to do but repeat them for the remainder of the play.
Taha is Palestinian and the play is set in an occupied and bombarded Palestinian city, though only the character names and a passing reference to the Koran anchor it in one place, and much of what it shows us could be true in any never-ending-war zone.
Two families try to continue life as normally as possible under abnormal conditions. The parents deflect their anxieties into petty squabbling while fighting their individual demons.
One mother immerses herself in mourning for a child killed by a bomb while her neighbour finds herself dreaming of ghost messages from that boy. One father busies himself in fixing appliances he doesn't know how to fix while the other imagines little and ineffective revenges on their oppressors that merely betray his powerlessness.
All the adults devote a lot of energy to trying to protect their children (a boy and a girl) from reality by convincing them that playing indoors is more fun than going outside, those noises and lights every night are just fireworks, and they'll all be going off to a seaside holiday soon.
Meanwhile the children play violent games, worry for their parents and act out their anxieties, proving that they see all, even if they don't understand it.
At least one of these characters is going to die before the end of the play – that's a foregone conclusion, though you may not guess which. But the destruction of lives will already have happened. From the start, everyone may be choosing a different way of going mad, but they are all going mad under the pressures of an impossible situation.
That is the very powerful point of Taha's play, and the only thing one can criticise is that, except for the single death, it all gets said within the first twenty minutes or so of the 85-minute play. The rest just says it again, and again, with decreasing rather than accumulating effectiveness.
Richard Twyman's production is marked and marred by curiously tentative performances throughout, with wavering characterisations and enough mis-timings and fumbling for lines to be seriously distracting, and I hope that the whole cast – no need to name and shame – gets stronger as the run goes on. Dalia Taha's play deserves better.
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