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Published 29 April 2008

Do not go and see Tinderbox after a large meaty meal, for Lucy Kirkwood’s first full length play is set in a butcher’s shop like no other.

Set sometime in the 21st century, when the British Isles are overrun by rising water, riots rage on the streets of Bradford and the world is in turmoil, Saul’s butcher’s shop is an oasis of traditional England. All is not as it seems, as meat is scarce in these barren times, but the shop still needs stock.

Into Saul’s own little empire sneaks Scottish outlaw Perchik, a man on the run and in need of help. What he finds is a butcher with questionable techniques and a hankering for a past that will never return, and his put upon, skittish wife.

Kirkwood creates a world for Saul where tradition is everything. Though this is 21st century England, a phone with a dial is attached to the wall, a remnant of the earlier days of a glorious empire. Jamie Foreman plays Saul as a man relishing every word of the Queen’s English that passes his lips, a man for whom his home is his castle and who, if he were to nick himself with one of the many tools of his trade, would bleed red, white and blue. His children, sadly killed during the 2012 attacks on Stratford, were named Enoch and Maggie.

Sheridan Smith yet again shows her comic pedigree as the beautifully ditzy and seemingly naïve Vanessa, a woman caught in a situation she appears witless to escape. She neatly balances being flirtatious with out being filthy, even when recreating her 15 minutes of fame starring in party political porn in support of the Conservatives.

Bryan Dick’s Perchik has quicker wits than his two colleagues, yet is constrained by Saul’s threats. His broad Scottish brogue conjuring thoughts of smooth whiskey and wild gorse, in a play rooted in British tradition, hints at the historical suppression of England’s northern neighbours.

There are issues lurking behind the immediate plot like a machete-wielding butcher behind an unsuspecting customer – the environmental effects that have caused the world’s changes, Perchik’s exploitation as an illegal immigrant worker, the destructive effect of commitment to tradition and staying rooted in the past in the face of change – yet these are always secondary to the love triangle and power struggle between the three central characters.

Kirkwood finds comedy in her dystopian vision of the not-too-distant future, sex, violence and anywhere else that might be a bit distasteful but ripe for mining for laughs. Like Saul’s stews, Tinderbox might not be to everyone’s taste, its ingredients might be best not discussed in public and it is definitely saucy.

Tinderbox plays at the Bush until 24 May.



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