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A CurtainUp London London Review
Holding Fire!

In this country . . . we like to make up our own minds and proceed with caution.
---- William Lovett
Holding Fire!
Peter Hamilton Dyer as William Lovett
(Photo: Andy Bradshaw)
Jack Shepherd tells us in the programme that Holding Fire! forms the centre panel of a triptych, "a big sprawling narrative" between two of his earlier plays — In Lambeth featuring a dialogue between William Blake and Tom Paine about whether a revolution is worth the blood it spills, and Through A Cloud featuring John Milton and Oliver Cromwell discussing what happens after a revolution. Holding Fire!, a didactic epic play about political ideas, finds itself in the arena at Shakespeare's Globe.

The Globe is in some ways the perfect setting for the large nineteenth century theme juxtaposing thinkers like the Chartists led by William Lovett (Peter Hamilton Dyer), who saw education as the salvation of the working classes, against more extreme revolutionary ideas like those of Friederich Engels (Nicholas Shaw) and the left wing Chartist, Feargus O'Connor (Jonathan Moore). These theorists are placed alongside the story of a young girl taken out of poverty into service in a large country house who gets involved in a murder and her lover ends up on the gallows.

It is a spectacle to see Victorian London recreated out of doors here at the Globe, like watching a page out of a Dickens novel come to life and the production is redolent with nineteenth century atmosphere. But it is also a play full of ideas and very wordy, more demanding to listen to in this space where it can be difficult to catch every word and where it is often easier to let the words float over you. I also think that while I might stand for three hours and more to hear Shakespeare, anyone writing for the Globe today should empathise with those of us sitting on wooden benches, albeit with a couple of inches of plastic covered foam between our delicate derrieres and the hard surface. This says nothing of those groundlings who have chosen to stand in The Pit and who will doubtless entertain friends and family with the puffed out description of their culture fuelled righteousness.

It is a hugely ambitious piece and the actors treble and quadruple up on the parts to provide all 61 characters. This inevitably leads to a lot of coming and going as the action switches from London to the North of England, to a factory mill, to Wales and finally to the condemned cell. I liked the staging of some of the meetings with cast up in the first floor gallery calling out from around the wooden O. The crowd always enjoys the interface with the cast as they make a path through the groundlings to the stage. Considering that there are no sets, the production team have done well to create different ideas of location. I heard cries from the crowd of "Horrible!" as a man swung on the gibbet. Have we at last found a scene that can shock the Globe audience rather than making them laugh?

Of the performances I must single our Peter Hamilton Dyer's sincere Lovett, Mark Rice-Oxley's fruity Oliver Wadham, a member of the Establishment, Craig Gazey's reckless Will the Boot Boy and of course Louise Callaghan as Lizzie Bains, the flower seller from London who is offered employment in service by Kirsty Besterman's tartan crinolined, wife of an industrialist, Mrs Harrington. Dale Rapley too has the opportunity to go over the top as an upper class toff. John Tamms' wonderful folk music sadly wasn't strong enough in decibel terms to fill this difficult and cavernous space and so was sadly muted.
Written by Jack Shepherd
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt

With: Peter Hamilton Dyer, Jonathan Moore, Philip Cumbus, Dale Rapley, Christopher Obi, Mark Rice-Oxley, Philip Bird, Louise Callaghan, Pippa Nixon, Alice Haig, Leander Deeny, Jim Bywater, Nicholas Shaw, Cornelius Booth, Kirsty Besterman, Jennifer Kidd, Adam Kay, Craig Gazey
Design: Janet Bird
Music: John Tams, Joe Townsend and the Band
Choreography: Siån Williams
Fight Director: Renny Krupinski
Movement: Glynn MacDonald
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 400 0626
Booking to 5th October 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd August 2007 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, New Globe Walk, London SE1 (Tube: London Bridge or St Pauls and then via the "wobbly bridge")
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