Britannia Waves the Rules

Gareth Farr
Royal Exchange Theatre
Royal Exchange Theatre

Dan Parr as Carl Jackson in Britannia Waves the Rules Credit: Jonathan Keenan

When Gareth Farr won a Judges Award in the much-coveted Bruntwood prize for new playwriting in 2011 with Britannia Waves the Rules, he was on the way to fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

Part of the prize is to have your play professionally produced by The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester—a theatre that Farr claims to have gazed at in wonder from the bus. If this recollection seems a little touched by sentiment, it is very much at odds with his stark and searing new play which has been produced in repertory with Simon Armitage’s Last Days of Troy.

Britannia Waves the Rules is a worthy Bruntwood winner. It is a harsh tale of the impact of war on the raw recruit. Familiar territory perhaps but Farr tells his story with an unrelenting anger which questions not so much the basis on which wars are fought but lays bare the spiritual destruction of the survivors, as well as the appalling waste of the slain.

He writes with passion and broad humour about a subject which—as we wait with increasingly baited breath for even a doctored version of the Chilcott Report—sadly never loses its relevance.

Carl Jackson is bored, directionless and broke. To pass the time he writes poems about how shit life is in his hometown of Blackpool. His Mum is dead, his Dad plays with trains and his Uncle silently drinks. Why the hell not join up and ‘see the world’?

The training is fun—he’s able to ‘run his anger out’ and he feels, at last a sense of purpose. If the disillusionment and trauma that await him during his tour of duty in Afghanistan seem inevitable, the intensity of the playing and the energy of the production ensure that his fate is still a compelling one.

Dan Parr plays Carl Jackson with almost agonising integrity. Holding the action for the full 90 minutes of the piece, he takes us through Carl’s journey from restless ne’er do well to burnt-out drunken veteran with utter conviction. He commits to the demands of the role with breathtaking energy and courage. In a high quality production, his performance is a standout and one which should bring the young actor huge credit.

Other performances are noteworthy too, particularly Colin Tierney as Carl’s bereaved Dad and Francesca Zoutewelle as his potential love interest, Goldie. However, these characters are somewhat underwritten for Carl’s relationship with them to be fully explored. They are part of the reason for his anger, for his need to escape as well as his need to return and they deserve more development. If the play is to progress—and it should—then this is an aspect which could stand revision.

However, this is a terrific debut from a first time writer and I for one would be happy to see Gareth Farr fulfil his childhood ambition a few more times yet.

Reviewer: Richard Vergette

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