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A CurtainUp London Review
The play is set in a future era Bradford where eating bananas is frowned upon because of the "Brazilian wandering spiders" infiltrating the country, where tobacco is a Class-A drug and where the morning's post is treated as a potential weapon of biological warfare. A "dangerous painter" with political tendencies is on the loose, a refugee from a police force which doesn't balk at peeling knee caps off suspected criminals barehanded. He stumbles into a place of refuge in the shape of a dingy, meat-starved butcher's shop where a proprietorial owner lords over a beautiful, if somewhat simple, wife. In spite of certain unsettling hints, he is offered a job and welcomed until he tastes the household stew and discovers the unsavoury fate of the previous meat-shop lackeys.
Designed by Lucy Osborne, the set has an overall Victorian crossed with futuristic feel but also incorporates an impressive attention to detail. The cramped butcher shop has a counter which displays a single sausage, a single meat chop (called "Danielle", apparently) and a modest tinned container of mince, all priced in Yen.
The small cast is dominated by Sheridan Smith, who was nominated for an Olivier award for her last stage appearance at the Menier, and here plays Vanessa, the butcher's wife. She is a "former star of a series of short party-political pornographic films intended to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to the masses". Although continually ridiculed or condemned as stupid, her charm both to the characters onstage and to the audience wins her the centre of the action. Her husband Saul is played by Jamie Foreman as a highly articulate, opinionated man with a power, territorial complex. He views the shop as both his empire and, somewhat dangerously, a tinderbox, which is only fine as long as he holds the matches. Bryan Dick is sympathetic as Perchick the "Inverness cowboy" of an artist with shaggy locks and beard but unfortunately no passport.
This new play is individualistic and the writing is quick and witty. Moreover, Tinderbox is worth seeing just for Sheridan Smith as the lovely, mischievous and underrated Vanessa. However, running at a slightly over-long extent and feeling taxing where it should be hilarious, you can't help but feel this is a play which is enjoyable today but probably won't have an extensive after-life.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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