You know those families where parents wander around naked in front of their teenage children? Or share strories about how they have left blood on the loo seat from their ‘time of the month’? Sorry if we’re making you squirm. All this happens in the opening scenes of Fireface (translated from its German language original) which centre round one dysfunctional family, following in particular two teenager's pains in their journey to puberty.
This part is the funniest and strongest in the show. The staging — which suggests the fragmented family as parents in bed lie at opposite ends of the stage — and a lovely performance from Aimee-Ffion Edwards as the precocious Olga — whose sexuality has quickly become mistress of her childish self — could have made this a cracker of a play.
Alas. It is not to be, because what takes over our quirky coming-of-age drama is a dramatic story of pyromania and some sort of quest for our two teenagers to experience life through pushing boundaries (lighting fires, enjoying nearly getting burned alive). Kurt (Rupert Simonian) transforms from spotty, petulant teenage boy into crazed burner of buildings, sweeping his corruptible sister with him. There's a gleefully hilarious incest story which derives its comedy from its very serious presentation about a frankly (we hope) ridiculous scenario where brother and sister explore sexuality a bit too closely together. There's some confident stage nudity - no mere flashes but brazen standing on the stage for hours completely au naturel (we gave William Postlethwaite's Paul extra applause for this brave feat) and some poetical stuff about birth being a trauma, all the blood and guts and amnesia of the whole thing happening.
But despite this eye catching material, of flames, nudity, incest, birth and death, the most arresting and articulate scenes about human experience are the ones with the dysfunctional family at the start. The sparks that fly need not be literal ones. Fireface tries to burn too brightly and its gems get forgotten in the rubble.
Fireface is on at the Young Vic until the 20 October. Tickets £12.50