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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hampstead Theatre   Autumn 2014

In Wildefire Roy Williams has written an admirably balanced portrait of the serving inner-city police officer, sympathetic but clear-eyed and not sentimentalised. What he hasn't written is a coherent and effective play. 

The spine of his play is the experience of a female officer who has transferred from a provincial force to London's East End because that's where the action is.

She quickly establishes herself as a skilled cop and one of the boys, and just as quickly is overwhelmed by the job and runs through a catalogue of bad experiences, turning sour, losing sympathy for victims, being manipulated by a crook she thinks she is running, neglecting and abusing her husband and child, cowering in fear before the thug who murders her partner, failing a battered wife she had hoped to help, becoming violent herself all this in the dramatic space of little over an hour. 

Meanwhile others in the precinct have their own subplots and experiences the murdered cop, his distraught girlfriend, the sergeant staking his chances of promotion on a big drug bust. 

That's a lot to squeeze into a play, and neither director Maria Aberg, actress Lorraine Stanley nor the rest of the hard-working cast have much opportunity (or time) to draw us into the characters or story lines. 

Wildefire rapidly collapses into a string of almost random episodes (Why these events and not others? Why in this order?), with the central character's moral and psychological collapse too quick and too barely sketched in to provide a sense of coherent forward movement. 

What does come through, and is Roy Williams's big contribution to our understanding, is his demonstration that the police force is not made up of Good Cops and Bad Cops, but that every individual has the capacity to be honourable, brutal, loyal, dishonest, dedicated, burnt out, wise, stupid, honest and dishonest sometimes in turn, as situations determine, and sometimes simultaneously, in the edge-of-chaos world they inhabit. 

Of course, Williams is not breaking new ground in seeking to dramatise with sympathy the confusing morally ambiguous world of the serving police officer. Apart from thousands of films and TV shows, one could cite Sidney Kingsley's 1949 Detective Story or Thomas Babe's 1977 Prayer For My Daughter. 

Many of those were less ambitious than Wildefire, but many were more successful in containing all their ideas within the bounds of a structured drama.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Wildefire - Hampstead Theatre 2014

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