The Forge at The Court in the Pub Charity Studio, Christchurch

17/08/2019 - 07/09/2019

Production Details

Flames are licking at The Court Theatre as The Arsonists enter The Forge, presenting a blazing drama featuring live music.

Running from the 17th August, the play follows a father-daughter arsonist duo whose latest job goes disastrously wrong, set deep in the swamps of Florida.

In this international premiere, Monique Clementson (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Roy Snow (Chicago) will be playing parent and child after H (Snow) is burnt to death, leaving M (Clementson) to deal with the ramification of their failed job.

Lyrical, poetic and hauntingly beautiful, H reappears to help M deal with unfinished business, the duo exploring their relationship through a series of wistful bluegrass and folk songs.

“It taps into this real Southern American bluegrass tradition,” director Dan Bain explains. “What playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger did was find already existent songs where the lyrical content says something about the play. It’s not a musical – they’re not singing their feelings – it’s an expression of their relationship and their shared history.”

Bain (Stephen King’s Misery), who is also The Court’s Associate Director, programmed the play himself after falling in love with the script. In her dedication, playwright Goldfinger writes: this is a love letter to my father. He is not dead. It’s a shame that folks hold off ‘till somebody dies to say how much they mean to ‘em. I’m gonna go ahead and do it now.

“I found that really beautiful,” Bain says. “My dad died four years ago, so personally, I found it really resonant. That wishing for things that got left unsaid.”

For him, the heart of the play comes from its unusual core.

“So many dramas are built on conflict,” he explains. “I see this story as being built on love. It’s a play about coming to terms with loss – or almost a wish fulfilment of that.”

In the intimate space of The Forge’s Pub Charity Studio, the production’s acoustic nature will engross its audience members in this stirring drama about love and loss.

“I think, at the guts of it, it’s about saying what you need to say to people before it’s too late,” Bain muses.

The Arsonists runs at The Forge at The Court Theatre

17 August – 7 September 2019.
Monday & Thursday 7:00pm
Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat 8:00pm
Forum 7:00pm Monday 19th August
Matinee 4:00pm Saturday 31st August  
All tickets $23

Bookings: phone 03 963 0870 or visit

M Monique Clementson
H Roy Snow

Director Dan Bain
usical Director Richard Marrett
Set Designer Richard van den Berg
Costume Designer Hayley Douglas
Lighting Designer Paul Johnson
Sound Designer Matt Short
Stage Manager/Operator Jo Bunce

Theatre , Musical ,

Between the silences emotions run hot

Review by Fiona S Giles 18th Aug 2019

This is Monique Clementson’s night. Glowingly beautiful, even in grubby overalls and covered in soot, Clementson has a restrained physicality to her performance, which allows her expressive face to blaze with emotion.

In The Arsonists we follow M, a desperate young woman, in the aftermath of an arson job gone terribly wrong. Her father, H, is dead. Yet up he rises. He tells her he can’t move on without her help, but she is unwilling to let him go. The following 80-or-so minutes is a conversation we are never quite sure is played out in real-life or in M’s head.

Roy Snow as H is vibrantly physical; a tall, dominating presence on the small stage. He is big and brash, as though taking up more space will make him more alive. But he knows his time is up. Alternately forceful, gentle, rambling (like many a father) he coaxes M to help him move on.

Perhaps this unusual concept is the reason the theatre is not full on opening night. It’s a tough sell, finding sympathy for people who set fires for a living and talk to their father’s ghost. Funnily enough, very little of the play dwells on their unusual career, or the events that led up to M hauling her dead father’s body through the dark and burying it under their dock house. More than anything, this is a story of relationships – of saying what you always wanted to say, or what you had never felt able to say. Of loving and letting go.  

Fire, then, is a metaphor here. For how we don’t really live until we have met someone to ignite love within us – to “get you alive,” as H says. For how a difficult relationship can burn up the people within it just as explosively as fire. For the power of love to destroy yet also to cleanse and transform.

And the fuses hanging to dry, that M and H so synchronously made together, are reminiscent of the hangman’s rope, hanging as they do between audience and actors. These threads are yet another metaphor: for the Greek myth of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin and cut the thread of life, as explained by father to daughter. He cajoles her to cut the thread of not only his life but her own, so she may make a new life from the embers of this one. 

Music is almost another character tonight. M and H share a talent for and a deep love of music, that bonds them further than blood can. I grew up in Ireland, where music is central to the culture, and I see the same bonding in H and M that I saw between friends, family and strangers at gatherings, funerals, parties and pubs across Ireland. Music brings us together. It enables us to say things we can’t otherwise put into words. A look shared over the top of their guitars, feeling the rhythm flow between them, roaring out pain or joy, being neither talk nor silence. That is a language unto itself. 

Silence is another language in The Arsonists. Pregnant pauses, shared companionable moments, desperate fear-filled stoppings-of-the-heart. After all, what are words to a friendly nudge? To a cheeky smile? To a tight hug? To the deep unshakable love between a father and daughter?

But between the silences emotions run hot. This is no easy watch. M and H’s heart-wrenching history, their emotional fights, their intense dialogue, leave the viewer straining to keep pace. Both Snow and Clementson adeptly capture this mercurial nature of the father-daughter relationship.

Richard van den Berg’s pared back set – grey-brown wood, a skeleton house frame, flotsam floating in the swamp – matches the emotional journey the duo go on. Everything is laid bare here, there is nowhere to hide. Ironically so, as M is hiding from the police as they talk. Paul Johnson’s clever lighting design smartly enables changes of scene, light or dark, without any interruption to the play’s flow. 

With its metaphor upon metaphor and inhabiting the space between living and death, reality and fantasy, past and present, The Arsonists will leave you unsettled. I don’t know that it will make you appreciate your dad or your daughter any better. But it makes me more appreciative of silence. Of the spaces between words that often say more than any words can. 


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