The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars (TOWKSS) is a play which, reflecting its child-like characters, comes from a beautiful place but ends up somewhere confused.
Henry (Gregory Finnegan) looks for German submarines signalling invasion, or the corpses of American pilots washed up on the beach. Henry isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he but can’t distinguish between using a flare gun to attract the attention of the army when under threat of German invasion and attracting a pretty girl’s attention by firing at her. When he fires a flare into the sky, he wishes upon it because it looks like a shooting star, and kills said star because that wish will never be requited. Conall Quinn’s story has a bittersweet tone, embodied by the endearing Finnegan.
Finnegan is wide-eyed and silly, like a grown-up Peter Pan who drinks too much. Clare Fraenkel’s Alice is equally air-headed, but when she enters the equation, things take a turn for the strange. Alice falls in love with Dumas (Paul Hayward), a ‘yankee-doodle’ that fell from the sky. The only problem is he’s dead. For the first act, this is an engaging concept; Alice is mad that her first lover died and is fixating on yet another dead man. It’s when Henry follows suit, and the imaginary friend gets imaginary friends of his own, that things become confusing.
The way the characters inject life into Dumas is a beautiful contrast to the stark reality of war and the hordes of the dying. This is reflected exquisitely in an earnest monologue from Dumas as he talks about being dead to his friends and family in America, as if he somehow realises the reality of his situation. In a strange way, TOWKSS pays homage to the dead of World War II by creating a life after death; and here, the line between life and death is blurred. The character of Edward (Damien Tracey) reflects the uglier side of war – he loots dead men’s possessions, and attempts to rape Alice. He’s more repulsive than can be believed, and Tracey’s forced performance only condemns the character further.
There’s a simplicity to Alice Malin’s direction which allows the script to stand on its own two feet. Conall Quinn’s writing is poetic, but at times, it feels as if the character’s voice is sacrificed for the writer’s. The White Bear Theatre space is a difficult one to work with and Malin makes the most of this with a minimal set, and the quirky, dynamic use of the wheelbarrow in which Alice transports Dumas’ body. Where the set is graciously quiet, the lighting is limited to red and blue filters which are constantly dimming and brightening. But being so close to the action, some of the magic is lost when a dead body visibly stands up to leave the stage, and more could be done visually to reduce the confusion when Dumas comes to life in the second act.
TOWKSS is a wonderfully surreal play, but struggles to find momentum with the idea as there’s only so far it can go. Although the characters and storyline are compelling, the overall development feels a little stilted, leaving it difficult to emotionally invest in it as much as you’d like to.
The Ones Who Kill Shooting Stars played at the White Bear Theatre until 21 October. For more shows at the White Bear Theatre, see their website.