Katlego Letsholonyana in a scene from Fire House. Photo: Jan Potgieter.
With the recent ravaging fires along our western cape and southern coastlines fresh in mind, and the terrible Imizamo Yethu fires just a few months earlier, Fire House brings us a story about South Africa’s unsung heroes – our firefighters.
Fire House is a crafty little piece of work – props are used for great comic effect (the toy wire fire truck) and the set is constantly reimagined in scene changes with the ladder and a few red crates. Some clever lighting, a smoke machine, and one of the best gobos I’ve seen, create the terror of a burning building. The actors help too.
Katlego Letsholonyana, Ryan Dittmann & Tebogo Machaba have wonderful chemistry together; I haven’t seen such good ensemble work for a while. As performers working together with timing and engagement, they’re excellent; as their characters, there’s a camaraderie and trusting friendship that is truly believable. They tease and mock each other about their cultures and having pretend-girlfriends. Jacob (Ryan Dittmann) is teased because his friends’ cat has a water purifier, “ah, that’s a white cat!”. Brains (Tebogo Machaba) is teased because he’s scared of cats – they make him catch a cat stuck in a tree – he says, “no man, it’s witchcraft”. This hilarious (second or third) scene hooks the audience from the start, and we’re pulled into their lovely friendship. Mamabolo (Katlego Letsholonyana) is the joker, the youngster, the class clown, and Brains and Jacob look after him, and give him lots of shit, like big brothers do. They’re silly, they need to be, to have some relief in between the heavy horrors they experience every time the alarm sounds.
Fire House uses the medium of a play about firefighters to address the difficult societal contexts that create the conditions they work in and the necessity for them. Fighting township fires that spread like, well, wildfire, through tightly packed shack housing made from cheap, flammable materials; and dealing with faulty resources like the Ladder Four truck that needs parts that just don’t arrive from the government supplier, or the helmets that break (although I’m sure that was a prop failure that was very well managed by the cast’s improv).
At the Fire Station, they watch the news show, ‘Banana Republic’. Our cast of three transforms into newsreaders and politicians, and make burning commentary about Zuma’s abuse of SA – but as Brains cynically asks, what party is there when they’re chasing fires? “The ANC, the DA, the EFF are nowhere to be found”. Politicians playing power games care not for the people, and not for the civil servants who daily brave the coalface of an angry public, and who give their lives to protect us (of course not all are altruistic, of course there are corrupt officials, we’re not idealistic or naïve and neither is the show).
Fire House uses fire metaphors to comment on a country in flames without hope of being doused anytime soon – it’s relevant, has excellent pace and is hilarious. Light a fire under your ass and go check it out.
— Sarah Roberson
Fire House has two more shows: 03 July at 12.00 and 04 July at 20.00. Book here.
Director: Kirsten Harris
Featured Artists: Katlego Letsholonyana, Ryan Dittmann & Tebogo Machaba
Company: Hijinks Theatre