Girl on Fire

Girl on Fire

This play caused my daughter severe embarrassment, she being eleven and having to be dragged into  a ladies underwear shop, to witness me buying tickets for the play ‘Girl On Fire.’ I tried to explain that I wasn’t there to purchase minute triangles of fine lace, but a gift to surprise her mother with an evening’s entertainment. I digress…

I did see garments that made me open my eyes wide and wonder, but not as much as the actors working from a great script that had me rolling in my chair from the moment the play began until the very last moment. During the hilarious moments and exchanges of enlightening dialogue, matched by the severe and serious discussions on stage, we were shown that the sex trade workers are real people too; something that we, at a distance, tend to forget.

Purposely, I set aside my reflections after this play, for a few days, because I knew my immediate thoughts would be to write a gushing review of the writer and actors. Now I can sit back and candidly reflect upon my views and I feel the same as I did when I left the theatre; the play is quite brilliant, the writing outstanding and performed by an exceptional cast.

The praise for this show is immediate and fulfilling. I want to tell everyone about it.

The interaction between Rashida Harding’s Peaches and Marsha Greenidge’s CiCi was a joy to share (they did share it with each member of the audience, individually) from their highs and lows, thoughts on life and how they plied their trade. In complete contrast Varia Williams and her ‘team’ gave a startling view of the lives of people who have ample funds and see the whole sex trade from another point of view; power and the money. At this point it occurred to me that it was the girls who were in control, completely; never their clients.

The language was strong throughout, but only represented the people working their trade. A well known celebrity and her mother behind me left quite early on, perhaps not previously realising that the play was clearly marked for an over 18 audience and was ‘R’ rated. The language was no worse than I hear at a football match every weekend, but would quite clearly be out of place in a church hall.

The difference in the polyclinic’s doctor and the private office was most interesting, with society providing it’s own view on the ladies’ work, but was it the fact that one doctor was being paid for their time to offer buckets of sympathy, that gave the impetus for the difference of opinion?

Certainly the twist in the plot, after the doctor’s visit, was as good as any Agatha Christie red herring. I’m sure every member of the audience was hoodwinked at this stage, unless they saw it last year!

I would agree with the actress who complained that people laughed through a rape scene on stage. My wife and I looked at each other incredulously as people giggled, more at the man’s exaggerated actions than fully taking in the whole substance of what we were really seeing – what really happens to sex trade workers who have the audacity to say no to their clients and refuse certain ’treatments.’

The message from the stage is clearly not to judge others. While we, (me) who have no real life contact with the sex worker’s trade – apart from some accidental television viewing where the hooker is usually beaten and gives most of her money to her pimp, before being murdered: The police cannot be bothered to investigate because the girls simply don’t count as humans in society. Having only seen the streets where the ladies roam in the daytime and certainly never able to afford or require Varia William’s team of expensive escorts (sorry Varia, could not remember your character’s name; it must have been that blond hair and the aggressive manner of a Global CEO in action that cut my memory,) I do understand that there must be a demand to match supply – basic economics in mathematics 101.

The second part of the message is that we (again, me) really do believe that prostitutes are probably uneducated (why would they need to turn to that work if they had a UWI degree?) and possibly caught by the many diseases that are bound to hinder their trade. This is clearly not true. Many are forced into the work for a multitude of reasons, often managing young families at the same time.

As the play shows, if I really held those views I would be missing reality by a long way. The play takes us through the stages of girls walking the streets looking for business, to a low paid worker tricked into high class sex escort work. Money is required in these days of dreadful recession and some people become desperate for money by any means without turning to a gun.  Others see the opportunity to earn more than a Government Minister, but only complete their work on one (or two) people at a time, rather than screwing their community, as a whole. The whole issue of HIV/Aids will not go away and if awareness is raised by the mounting of plays on our stages, because the standard government speak is now bland and passé (seeing how young people treat their sex lives without thought of disease or potential ramifications), then it keeps momentum and fresh thoughts in the minds of those who attend.

Upon leaving the theatre, I gave thought to the earlier production by the same team, who brought us Simone’s Place, which I found entertaining, mind provoking and wondered why Girl On Fire couldn’t have been produced on the the professional stage, instead of a school hall and although I did not discuss this with anyone relevant, the acoustics of the school hall and the location were obviously not up to the standard of a professional stage, where many more people may have seen the play, with their extended advertising budget. I would guess it is much about how society doesn’t value the arts, doesn’t believe that artists need to make a living and therefore the whole production was required to match a smaller budget, which didn’t allow for plush surroundings.

Simone’s place was very good, and Glenville Lovell’s script outstanding. It brought issues to the Barbados stage that required sharing if we are to grow as a society. Girl On Fire pips it because the characters came to life from the stage; so much so that you thought you knew so much more about the ladies and their private lives, individually, by the time the curtain fell. For a couple of hours, you knew what they were going through to provide for their families and it was all perfectly relatable. Where Simone’s was 8 out of 10, Fire reached 8.5 out of 10, but maybe it’s because the latter is fresher in my mind.

There is no doubt that 2014 has been a wonderful year for watching plays on local stages; long may these standards remain.

There are two areas that I must take issue with. First, the programme was a little lacking, not even pairing the poorly produced pictures of the cast with their stage characters. I understand that cost is everything in local productions, but I’m sure an art student somewhere would have been pleased to have worked on programme presentation as a freebie for their college or University project.

Second, I take real issue with missing last year’s performance because I would quite happily have sat through the show a second time. Like reading a book or watching a film the second time, you see so much that you missed the first time around, even if the shock value has waned. You get to see the play in a different light. My issue is with not knowing that the play had even been produced last year and that I had been deprived of watching Marieille Onyeche’s brilliant writing come alive, earlier.

Local theatre must find a way of communicating more about its arts portfolio. If I missed it (and I like to attend every play that I can) then what of all of our society who could have attended, who might have wanted to attend, but knew less than I? Instead of constant slapstick (which has its own place) more people could have been exposed to great artistry from very fine performances, many who I did not even mention above, but were equally rewarding. As Simon Alleyne (Director of Lighthouse Foundation) said, and he is 100% right; “this play could carry not only throughout the region, but is relevant on any West End or Broadway stage.” Do we have to wait a year to see it again, updated, or shared with a large audience?


4 Responses to “Girl on Fire”
  1. Wayne Jordan says:

    I wanted to see the play a second time, since Varia Williams and Carla Spinger had joined the cast. Unfortunately, I could not. Thanks for the wonderful review. Your sentiments are exactly mine after the first performance and I am sure the overall performances would have been enhanced by the two above mentioned actresses since I did think that some of the performances in the first version were weak. I, too, was surprised that Girl on Fire had not been moved to The Frank Collymore Hall for this second performance.

  2. Stephen says:

    Thank you, Wayne.

    Perhaps you’ll have to wait until it shows for the third year running!

  3. Varia says:

    Hi Stephen, I am just now reading this. I tend to avoid reviews for a while (haha). I enjoyed reading it. We (performers et al) are always grateful for anyone who takes the time post production to articulate and write their thoughts in a critical assessment. It would have been lovely to perform Girl on Fire on any of Barbados’ premiere stages – FCH/EBCCI. Unfortunately the cost is just a little over brain surgery.
    There has been talks of doing the production again and even a film version… we’ll see. Would be nice to work with those wonderful girls again.
    By the way, my character’s name was Rasheeda!

  4. Stephen says:

    Thanks Varia. Looks like you’ll have to attend a brain surgery course, sometime soon.