The commitment and enthusiasm that drives community theatre is abundantly displayed in a brave attempt to produce a full-length musical out of the mayhem and carnage of the Great Fire of London.

Fire on the River has been a 12-year labour of love for creator Graeme John Webber who honed his musical skills while playing for P&O cruises in the 1960s. The opening establishes Restoration era London with the robust jollity of a medieval fair and the marketplace setting allows a potpourri of stock characters to introduce themselves in song-and-dance routines.

The story centres on a sweet romance between a travelling minstrel and a poor street vendor. Lily Louise Garrard captures the feisty spirit of a cockney girl and wins hearts with her infectious enthusiasm and graceful poise. Paul Greenfield woos her earnestly in a series of love songs and their duets provide the play's most touching moments.

A more sinister tone comes with Kimberly Mankin's portrayal of a fortune-teller who warns of the impending doom with eerie vocals that call to mind the surreal sound of Kate Bush.


With the onset of the fire, the difficulties of incorporating tragic material into musical comedy become apparent. Epic disasters have fuelled plenty of Hollywood blockbusters but there is probably a good reason why musicals tend to shy away from this kind of subject matter.

The problem is compounded by having the devastation described in rhyming couplets though a more authentic note comes with Kashan Preston as Samuel Pepys who presents an eye-witness perspective on the tragedy.

The rebuilding of London under Christopher Wren is given a triumphal tone and with a double wedding it is difficult not to get swept up in the exuberance of the show's feel-good finale.

What: Fire on the River
Where: Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden, to October 16; Spotlight, Papatoetoe, October 18-23; Pumphouse,Takapuna, October 25-30