Writer: Gareth Farr
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
In the programme notes for his debut play, Britannia Waves the Rules, playwright Gareth Farr recalls an early meeting in which he was told to ‘put this play in a drawer and forget about it’. Thankfully others disagreed; with Farr awarded the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2011 and The Royal Exchange choosing to stage the play in rep alongside poet Simon Armitage’s dramatisation of the Trojan War in The Last Days of Troy.
Britannia Waves the Rules begins far closer to home, among the bright lights of Blackpool, the hometown of protagonist Carl Jackson. Unable to see a future beyond regular trips to the Job Centre and British Legion with his Uncle Charles, Carl is lured into joining the army by the promise that he will ‘see the world’. What follows is an unflinching depiction of the reality of war and the effects on the soldiers thrown into fighting it.
The play hinges on an electrifying central performance from Dan Parr as Carl, who is onstage throughout and succeeds in holding the gaze of the audience from his opening lines. Carl is full of anger and frustration, frequently exploding into fits of rage. He also writes poetry and often expresses this rage in rhyme. This not only brings greater warmth and depth to the character but also gives Farr’s dialogue an engaging lyrical quality that captures the audience’s attention.
It is difficult to imagine a performance as extraordinarily intense and physical as Parr’s. Carl spends much of the play running, whether it is running from his own rage along the beaches of Blackpool or running into the field of battle in Afghanistan. Director Nick Bagnall and designer Ashley Martin-Davis cleverly utilise a bungee cord to stage these sequences, with Parr literally straining at the leash holding him back.
Parr is ably supported by four cast members from The Last Days of Troy; Claire Calbraith, Francesca Zoutewelle, Simon Harrison and Colin Tierney. Both men play multiple characters and switch between them with ease.
It is not without humour, particularly from Harrison and Tierney’s ‘mock Mancs’, but Farr shifts the tone throughout and is unafraid to ask big questions regarding the nature of war and the treatment and recruitment of young men into the Army.
Running at just under 90 minutes with no interval, Britannia Waves the Rules tells a sharp and powerful story and Dan Parr’s central performance is a real tour-de-force. It is a shame that there are only three more chances to see this production but a relief that Farr ignored the advice to forget this play. With a powerful debut play of this quality there is no doubt that in Gareth Farr, an exciting new talent has been discovered.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan | Runs in rep until 7th June