Playing With Fire
I stopped by at the Espai Mon Theatre a couple of nights before the opening performance of Playing with Fire to watch the dress rehearsal and meet the writer and director, Julian Wickham.
He told me about his life as an actor in London, why he moved to Barcelona, why he wrote the play, and how he set up the amateur English Drama Company, which was due to perform its debut show just two days later, after three months of rehearsals.
The dress rehearsal was typically slow-moving and lacked fluidity. However, returning on the Saturday opening night, I couldn’t quite believe the transformation as I walked into the same theatre and sat amidst the lively, chattering throng of people before the play began. No frills, nothing fancy - just a basic set with a few personal touches. It was still rough around the edges, but what was more poignant was the play’s story.
It involves an expat group in Barcelona, something to which many in the audience can clearly relate. “So… this is Barcelona,” says one of the minor characters at one point, and the comic undertones relating to the expat experience make the play all the more entertaining, while the audience smirk at the odd references to troubled British integration into Barcelona. We see the painful process of a Spanish conversation class, the play on Spanish phrases, “Hasta banana”, our dodgy touristic knowledge, along with a British critique of Spain’s economy. I shared the feeling of “been-there-done-that”.
The play is based on the story of a young man called Ryan who deceives two women, Amy and Rebecca, who he later discovers are housemates. Importantly, it explores how the social media can reveal our truths—after he labels himself as "in a relationship" with one of these women on Facebook—and how such revelations can seriously affect our lives. The storyline makes us question the assumption that we all have a life within the social media, specifically on Facebook. When Ryan meets Amy, early on in the play, she asks him, “How do I contact you? Do you have Facebook?” Ryan claims he’s “not really into the whole Facebook thing”. Indeed, why should we all have our information so readily available? The power the social media has to present the truths in people’s lives comes at the climax of the play, when Amy sees Ryan's relationship status update, and exclaims, “Look on my Facebook page!”. The irony of the lack of truth in real life, and how it only appears to exist within the social media, screams volumes about the society we live in.
What the writer and director Julian Wickham wants to convey is that the truth always prevails. When Ryan is asked to hand back the keys to his flat, another character, Lila, tells him to go and do his washing elsewhere. It reminded me of the phrase “the truth always comes out in the wash.”
At first, Ryan blames Facebook for the exposure of his deceit, and his consequent misfortune. However, once he comes to blame himself, we do feel some sympathy. The play portrays the male journey between youth and manhood. Whilst Ryan seeks the playful nature of Amy, he wants the maturity of Rebecca. Ryan conveys the confusion of a young man. When he realises he loves Rebecca, however, how can we be sympathetic? I was taken in by the scene between Hayley (performed superbly by Wendy Lee Taylor) and Edward (played by Julian Wickham himself). Edward mirrors the complications Ryan encounters, having deceived Hayley time and time again but each time she forgave him. In this scene she promises never to take him back into her life. I thought the story would end when we saw the devastated Ryan alone on stage, leaving the audience with the sentiment of “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. However, the ending of the play reveals that, in fact, some people never change…
Emotionally charged and delightfully entertaining, Julian has intelligently crafted a story with a poignant meaning behind it; from which all of us can take away something significant from his self-conscious writing. I’m looking forward to see what he and his theatre company produce next, and how his drama school evolves.