CULTURE Senior Production Week – Playing with Fire
The Arsonists by Max Frisch Translated by Alistair Beaton By arrangement with Play Bureau NZ Ltd The Arsonists is an extended metaphor about the weakness of personal ethics in the face of evil – a story to demonstrate how people often accommodate the very thing that is trying to destroy them. Max Frisch wrote The Arsonists in 1958, not long after the horrors of World War II and at a time of the spread of communism – especially the seizing of Czechoslovakia and Hungary by Soviet Russia – and when the Cold War was threatening humanity. In the city in which The Arsonists is set, fires are becoming a problem, but Mr Biedermann (Zac Matson) – who symbolises all people – has it under control. A respected member
Old Boys’ Theatre 14–19 May 2019
of the community with a loving wife and a flourishing business, he believes nothing can get to him. To fulfil his civic duty, he is happy to give shelter to two houseguests (Ed Bayliss and Nathan Penrose), and when they start filling the attic with petrol drums, he helps them wire the fuse.
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Our 2019 senior production week set out to challenge both actors and audience to sit up and think about choices and consequences. Of course, theatre can be entertaining and frivolous, but theatre can also help us look at the way human beings treat each other, uncover and challenge the underbelly of our humanity, so we can take stock and guard against … ourselves. Evil is tempting, terrifying, tremendous. And yet evil toxicity triumphs most when good people do nothing. It is what happens when you find yourself playing with fire. We say “this is not us” as others commit atrocities. Really? These two plays, written after the tragedy and upheaval of World War II, could not be more timely reminders of our responsibilities to all of humanity in the here and now. We are us and we must reflect upon the insights of the visionary firemen, and the clarity of benevolence espoused by Piggy and Simon as we try to live together in the modern world. At the We Are One National Remembrance Service in Christchurch on 29 March 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s much acclaimed speech restated the message of our plays: “The answer lies in our humanity”.
One theatre critic wrote:
“This play is a bit nuts. It’s got a chorus in it, which talks to the audience. Biedermann talks to the chorus, his wife talks to the audience, Biedermann talks to the audience. At one point actors take seats in the auditorium. When I first read it, I thought it was a very atmospheric play, sinister even. Then I had another read and thought it was funny. I read it again, and this time all of the political meaning of the play leapt out at me”.
Christ’s College Canterbury
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