Setting fires is in the blood and these two are professionals, but something has gone horribly wrong this time. M (Monique Clementson) curses from backstage and appears, distraught and covered in soot. She heaves a dead body up the steps and hides it beneath the floorboards.
Then, her father H (Roy Snow) rises up, apparently unharmed. A stoic and practical character, he says a piece of him was left behind and asks his daughter for help. We watch the play through a wooden frame, focused on their relationship. The silver timber set rising up from the dark swamp gives the play a dreamlike feel. Is he really there or not?
They make rope for fuses and sing the songs of her childhood. Sometimes, a parent and child’s relationship is just doing the everyday tasks together. Their shared love of music shows their connection, the teaching, the learning and the joy. But there are intense moments too - terrible secrets that have remained hidden for years. Accusations and pregnant pauses leave the audience feeling uncomfortable in places.
Roy Snow and Monique Clementson are true stars in this piece, playing the fraught and tender relationship so well. The news that they had been playing the guitar for a matter of weeks was astounding. Clementson’s voice is hauntingly beautiful. Snow’s acting sparks the anguish of seeing pain in someone who has always been strong. They became every father and daughter, telling all in song, a few words and silence.
The show doesn’t focus on how they started burning houses for a living, how they get money or who their clients are. Instead, fire is a symbol for the unpredictability of life and love. The language of setting fires is how they talk to each other, in a language they both understand. And it’s beautiful.
How do you sum up a lifetime? The play is about saying everything that has been left unsaid, working through the sticking points. It is about loss and grief but also permitting yourself to move on. This is a confronting and honest performance that sticks with you long after the applause has died.
The Forge is an intimate theatre which aims to show more risky stories of what it is to be human, as a counterpoint to the main stage. The Arsonists runs until 7th September.
Phone: 0800 333 100
Address: The Forge at the Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington
Dates: 17 August - 7 September, 2019