Taking Goethe’s story of a man caught between his equal passion for his wife and his lover (both of whom are bizarrely happy to share him) Firehouse has turned Stella on its head by making their protagonist a woman. Into this framework they have interwoven stories gleaned from StoryStation, a project whereby audiences were asked to respond to provocatively personal prompts in an attempt to address the questions of love and loss that affect us all. This is a clever idea, with some of the most poignant moments coming from the actors’ relaxed performances of these undeniably compelling true experiences.
In practice however, Rachel Parish’s production is an altogether more defused and predictable affair. If you’re asking people for their most extreme examples of love and then putting them onto a framework which is already prone to melodrama (as Goethe’s 1776 text is), you can only really end up in cliché. Which is exactly what happens here. As a consequence what we see alongside these organic anecdotes is a rather synthetically modified fictional plot, with some sweet but superfluous movement sprinkled on top.
Although flawed this is not to say that the production is unlikeable. The same could be said for its heroine, whom Elizabeth Boag portrays as a vividly complex creature quite capable of captivating audience and suitor alike. Alan Cox is charming as her louche husband Ray, and Richard Maxted, suitably attired in boyish shorts, does a solid job as Leo the neurotic son. Only Durassie Kiangangu seems out of sorts in his role as lover Sam, although none of the cast ever quite sink comfortably into the American accents that they adopt for the fictional parts of this tale.
Firehouse’s ambition has just outreached its grasp. Parish’s production tries to incorporate a classic text, modern day audience stories and movement-based emotional interpretations, all at once. The resulting tapestry does not weave together well enough and is a little disengaging. But at times the charming performances do tug at the heart strings, and for the StoryStation experiences alone, Stella is worth a look.
- Honour Bayes