Britannia Waves The Rules - Royal Exchange, Manchester
It’s highly unlikely that those tasked with the current
‘re-branding’ of Blackpool will be using any extracts from this brand new play in their marketing campaign.
To say it takes a miserable view of the resort, through the eyes of its central character Carl, would be understating the matter. He’s your classic angry young man, weaving his way around a modern landscape of hopelessness, negotiating all the familiar minefields of the Job Centre, drug dealers, and broken romance plus a widowed father regressing back into his own childhood.
He’s also something of a latent poet more than able to give expression to his emotions, which makes him a sufficiently interesting personality for playwright Gareth Farr to hang his story around. It’s essentially a blazing 90-minute monologue of rage as Carl inevitably joins the Army, is brutalised in training and ends up virtually shell-shocked before he even lands in Afghanistan.
The anger means that the play is not always coherent in its pacing, and Farr might have traded a little of the war zone narrative for closer study of the post-conflict effect on Carl and his contemporaries. But it is a valid and compelling piece of drama and it’s easy to see why it caught the eyes of the Bruntwood judges and has been three years in development.
Above all, it is given a quite sensational physical performance by Dan Parr in the central role, aided by quite enough directorial momentum from Nick Bagnall.
The play is paired here with Bagnall’s current Exchange production of Helen of Troy, and shares several cast members in supporting roles. Centuries and styles apart, both are studies of the brutalising effect of war.
It’s a bold move, and fully justified, to lend it the main stage space rather than the Studio setting and is perhaps a further signal of artistic director Sarah Frankcom’s assertive re-positioning of the venue as somewhere in which to take theatrical risks.
Both run until June 7.