This is a terrific play. A companion piece to the Royal Exchange’s major production of Simon Armitage’s “Troy”, a staging of the “Iliad”, it also deals with war and its consequences. Written by Gareth Farr the cast is drawn from that of “Troy” except for the lead, Dan Parr. He is a triumph. Occupying the stage for the entirety of the play, Dan’s character Carl Jackson is complex, charming and contradictory.
In a production that would usually begin and end in the Exchange’s smaller studio space he dominates the action in the main auditorium. Young, frustrated with ambition to escape the narrowness of his provincial world – this will not win an award from the Blackpool Tourist Board – Carl determines to join the army. His motives though are not so clichéd as economic conscription even though the poetry of Carl’s “a wage is a cage” will resonate. His family is loving but distant and fractured due to an earlier trauma, he cannot commit to his girlfriend Goldie. He runs and runs to feel pain, to escape. Escape is Germany, Cyprus, Kenya. Training. Then, Afghanistan.
We are not told what the war is about. Does Carl know what the war is about? It is prose and pain. Returning to Blackpool has he escaped? Now he has returned is it Blackpool or him has changed? How and in what way he is defined, that what he fled from or what he has become? What does mark your marrow with the consistency of Blackpool rock? And Carl returns to poetry. But not with joy, his former exuberance.
What is the play about? War, what is is it good for? Maybe, absolutely nothing. War is in the news. 1914. D Day. It can distance, alienate.Villains. Then there are heroes. This play is not political in terms of a message. It just … is. Drama.
Take from it what you will.
Britannia Waves the Rules is on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until 26 July.