Review: FIREraisers (The Red Light District)

The FIREraisers is an updated version of Max Frisch’s play from 1958 originally subtitled a “morality without a moral.” This version is directed by Lauren Gillis. Frisch’s play centres around an industrialist everyman figure, Biedermann, in a town facing an arson epidemic. 

In the original play, Biedermann is a conservative uptight man, who is convinced he would never be taken in by Fireraisers and goes through the play in denial even though the two vagrants who enter his home are explicit in their plans. In this version Biedermann is a female character, ably played by Briana Templeton and the vagrants are two homeless people who are less explicit, which results in what I imagine is quite a different play from the original.

The Imperial pub is an interesting venue and although the sound bleed can interfere a little it does create an intimate atmosphere. We are welcomed in by Anna the maid and are given business cards as tickets (a nice touch) as we are told to wait for Mrs. Biedermann. I am not sure who we are supposed to be in this scenario – her position is that of a Marketing Specialist for flame resistant products and perhaps we are disgruntled customers but she comes in somewhat frazzled and highly strung. Settling down to a glass of wine and one of the most ingenious ways of smoking on stage without really smoking – she is quickly interrupted by her maid telling her a vagrant is at the door.

Biedermann is then manipulated into allowing not one but two homeless people to stay in her attic and take over her space because she is so concerned about  not appearing cruel. All the while a TV of some sort houses two clown-like reporters who tell us what is going on in the outside world, with reports of people’s houses going up in flames.

The production team are asking the question – how far will we go to hide our prejudices for the sake of appearing politically correct? But the problem I have is that it seemed clear that these people were suspicious right from the beginning. It therefore made the conflict was not as interesting. I found it hard to understand the motivations of the homeless duo and I cared less and less about Biedermann and her offstage husband. I think because everything felt so frantic and high energy from the start and the stakes were raised so high,  that none of the actors had anywhere to go and by the end of the play it hadn’t progressed.

I admire the intentions of the company and the acting was all very good, with Eve Wylden, who plays the maid Anna with such sincerity and poise that her portrayal of this down trodden and sympathetic woman was one of the highlights of the show for me. Aside from that, it felt to me like everyone was playing a caricature. Biedermann didn’t seem a woman in control and it would have been more interesting to me if we had seen her spiral downward and if the two vagrants had been less obvious and more charming at the beginning; because then I would have been more intrigued as to who was who and what their motivations were.

More and more I find myself going to the theatre and asking – why this play, why now? This company certainly had their reasons for doing this play and I commend them – I just feel that the creation process and the things they discovered were probably a lot more interesting than the final product.


FIREraisers is playing at The Imperial Pub (54 Dundas Street East) until November 19th.
– Performances are Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm.
– Ticket prices range from $15 – $20
– To reserve email

Photo: Briana Templeton by Johnny Vong