News

How to Set a Fire in a Crowded Theater

DON'T play with fire. It's a deep-rooted taboo, part of the wallpaper that hangs in the dark attic of childhood fears, along with not taking candy from strangers or running with scissors.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/theater/newsandfeatures/20lies.html

By LIESL SCHILLINGER
 
Published: February 20, 2005


DON'T

play with fire. It's a deep-rooted taboo, part of the wallpaper that

hangs in the dark attic of childhood fears, along with not taking candy

from strangers or running with scissors. But in "Shockheaded Peter,"

Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott's gleefully nightmarish

dramatization of German cautionary tales, a naughty little girl named

Harriet (Tamzin Griffin) can't resist the allure of a shiny box of

matches.

 In the play, which opens Tuesday at the Little

Shubert Theater, Harriet wears a yellow and white pinafore over a

demure Victorian dress, and has blond braids, a ghastly white face,

dark-ringed eyes, a crimson mouth and fire-engine red ankle boots that

peek out beneath her petticoats. Striking a match, she sets her apron

string alight, she grabs at the cloth, trying to shake off the flame,

but tongues of red, yellow and orange fire climb up her dress, frothing

and rustling, enveloping her until she's completely consumed. Soon, all

that's left of her is a pile of ashes, and her red boots.

 In this age of high-tech special effects, audiences have grown

used to prosthetics and cannily edited stunts that make imagination

unnecessary. But Harriet's transformation from baby doll to fireball -

which takes about 10 minutes - could not be more low-tech. The cascade

of flames is made up of cotton, satin and net, in red, white, orange

and yellow, sewn on with thread. The scene achieves its magic through

the power of suggestion.

 "The beauty of it is the

simplicity of the effects," said Kevin Pollard, the show's makeup and

costume designer. "We had a very small budget, so I made everything I

could myself. I based Harriet around the idea of a Victorian child, a

little like Alice in Wonderland, but with black eyebrows, so she

immediately conjures that macabre image of Baby Jane."

 "Everything needed to look rotten and broken down and shadowed,"

Mr. Pollard said. "The actors needed to seem as trapped in time as the

characters they were playing."

SHARE ARTICLE