Catherine Ireton seems to be developing quite the niche for telling small, slight stories that are superficially unremarkable but nonetheless possess an uncanny ability to get their hooks into your heart. While her deservedly award-winning Brighton Fringe show Leaving Home Party was autobiographical and a little fragmented, here she has more (albeit not much more) of a narrative. For all the fires not yet lit is the tale of timid bride-to-be Claire trying to find the courage to make a speech at her wedding day, and discovering her inner resolve in unexpected ways.
Ireton is a tremendously engaging performer, and the piece is full of charm and whimsy. It’s a touring show ideally suited for even the snuggest of venues, but the night I saw it, the immediacy of the performance was compounded by the setting.
There are, no doubt, many financial reasons why big venues can’t regularly host small shows, but there is something quite lovely about it when they do. The audience is a mere handful of people compared to the usual crowds, and we are led from the normally brightly lit bar – tonight only dimly illuminated by mason jars of rope lights – into the stalls of the cavernous Theatre Royal, the rest of the great space dark and deserted.
Huddled together in the first few rows, it feels less like an audience for a performance than a social gathering, a throwback to the oral storytelling traditions of old that are still evident in Ireton’s ‘spoken song’ style. Being in such a space when it is almost empty lends the experience an illicit intimacy, the thrilling frisson of being in a public building long after it is closed and everyone else has gone home, leaving only our little band of stowaways.
The show is equal parts moving and funny, using Ireton’s exquisite, lilting voice to great effect in a series of numbers that range from the comic to the haunting and evocative. Ireton has a gift for skewering the absurd in the everyday, while also finding the grace in the mundane that recalls a low-key Victoria Wood; a female Alan Bennett with the voice of an angel.
Deftly switching between all the characters in her somewhat unlikely tale, she skilfully plays up the laughs while never losing sight of the ordinariness at the core of the story, the thing that gives it real heart: the reminder that everyone is equally scared, and sometimes small acts of bravery are enough.
For all the fires not yet lit is on a UK tour until November 9th. For more details, click here.