Reading the Facebook event page for Home Fires, I quickly noted the content warning. “Frequent mentions of parental death and parental estrangement, allusions to past emotional abuse”. This, as well as the inclusion of a Welfare Rep as part of the crew, is part of a move towards responsible theatre-making, and one that alleviates any notion that what you’re about to see has been done for shock value. In addition, despite its themes, Home Fires avoids any reference to the global pandemic, allowing it to be a timeless piece of theatre that guides the audience through the difficult new family dynamics after a bereavement.

The screen opens to reveal a black box studio space. Aside from a wooden chair and a glass of water, there is nowhere for Marie (Georgie Dettmer) to hide as she walks across the camera to sit down. Before Dettmer draws breath you instantly worry whether she can hold an online audience’s attention for forty minutes with such potentially emotionally heavy material. Don’t worry; she can. 

Home Fires, written and directed by Maya Little, follows Marie in a hypothetical conversation with her mother following her father’s death. Desperate to reconcile, Marie tries to find herself in the new normal of her family and attempts to deal with the practical difficulties children are left with after losing a parent. 

Little’s script manages to find the tough balance of being compassionate with Marie’s situation yet realistic about the types of conversations that follow the death of a relative. Little largely manages to avoid the easy clichés as she explores with care the idea of inheritance, materialistically and emotionally. The word games between Marie and her mother are a brilliant device in showing the different types of loss between a spouse and a child. You can feel the chasm of grief that now divides Marie and her mother. And though the play starts to lag as we get further in with the soon-familiar empty silences, by this point, Little has already won you over. She is not prescriptive. She allows Dettmer the space to examine each emotional turmoil without overburdening her.

Dettmer, as mentioned earlier, has the unenviable task of holding the production together. Yet, even without an audience, she keeps the audience with her. Her performance is simple yet strong; she follows the age-old advice of less is more to the letter, forcing the audience to be mindful of each small change. Like Little, she finds the point of tension between searing pain and occasional dark humour. Dettmer can appear petulant at times, particularly during the exchanges between Marie and her mother which could have been much stronger if they were all directed to camera instead of constantly being delivered to the left and right. In fact, Marie rarely looks directly at the camera. Whilst a bold choice and highly likely, it strains our ability to connect with Marie. Then again, perhaps, this feeling of wishing we could know more about Marie may be what Dettmer and Little are after. Throughout the forty minutes, Dettmer, with Little’s help, paces out the performance carefully before leading us to Marie’s final realisation.

This is not Little and Dettmer’s first collaboration together and it shows. When we meet up with them in a post-show talk, there’s a natural warmth between them and the two have the confidence to tackle this kind of material respectfully in all its complexities. Could it have worked in person? Yes, and more. It’s clear that this was adapted for the screen and there are moments when a videographer could have really helped. But, as for Little and Dettmer, this is a partnership that’s full of potential and I hope to see a lot more of them in the future.

Home Fires is available to watch on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MWlpwKiBWI&ab_channel=PaperMoonProductions

Carol Jones

Carol Jones writes 'The Good Grief Notes' column for the Oxford Blue, where she also writes about culture and women's rights. She studies DPhil Music Composition at St Catherine's and works as a freelance...