SPARX play review

SPARX performed by Zip Theatre

Written by Jon Lingard Lane

@ The Lord Silkin School, Stirchley, Telford

Arson costs the nation more than £45,000,000 a year. And every year round a hundred or more people are killed by it. That’s two people a week killed by fires that are deliberately started, often by children. These are just two of a number of shocking statistics that I learned from Sparx, a touring play commissioned by the West Midlands Arson Task Force which visited Telford’s Lord Silkin School on Monday the 18th October.

The play works on a number of different and interlocking levels to bring home its message to its audience. As a piece of educational theatre it provided clear and coherent advice on what to do if trapped in a fire as well as the startling and frightening statistics about the toll – human, social and financial - that arson can take on a community. As the lyrics to one of the songs, woven into the play, point out: fire can eat you. Flames are not a game.

Good teaching – be it Maths, English, Civics, or Theatre Studies – aims to make memorable those things which it wishes to teach. And what turned statistics – shocking enough in themselves – into an afternoon of exciting, vibrant and engaging theatre was the way that the play and the talented, energetic and committed company of players who performed it, revealed that behind every statistic, between the cold facts of every news story there lies a human life and that all these human lives are, to one extent or another, dependent on one another.

The play – without preaching – invited its young audience to reflect on the unfolding events of a tragedy. It invited them to think about a world where actions have consequences, where those consequences cannot always be foreseen or intended, and where events – even accidents – happen for a reason. By asking its audience the audience to engage with those reasons the play shows us a society, a community and a world where we are connected to one another by responsibility, friendship, family and, in the last reckoning of all, by love.

Flames are not a game. On one level, the message is simple. But – as Sam Goldwyn once famously stated – “If you want to send a message you should use Western Union.”

However, if, as well as a message, you want to enjoy an afternoon of theatre that shows you a world and a society, that engages the intelligence and the senses, that sometimes makes you laugh, sometimes makes you cry, and always makes you think, then forget Western Union. Use Zip. The music’s great too. Highly recommended.

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Review by Nick Pemberton

21st October, 2010