Carthage Must Be Destroyed
Traverse Theatre Company
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
To solidify an increasingly unstable government, three men conspire to put Rome at war with Carthage, using a simple three-stage plan. First, senator Gregor (Sean Campion) will stir up rumours to win the hearts and minds of the people - to convince them that Carthage is a threat. Next, aspiring politician Marcus (Damian Lynch) will make the financial case for war. Finally, consul Cato (Tony Guilfoyle), who is the driving force behind the strategy, will declare war. Rome will plunder Carthage's riches, filling the city's coffers and solidifying Cato's rule. Sound familiar?
The oft-repeated refrain of writer Alan Wilkins' title is, to the characters of his second Traverse play, a battle cry: justification for the destruction which will ruin Carthage and save the political lives of Rome's ruling elite. To audience members, who live in a world where the relationship between political machinations and armed conflict has become more and more evident in recent years, it is a chilling reminder of how easily the public can be lulled into nationalistic/patriotic frenzy.
But Carthage Must Be Destroyed is not by any means a purely political work. The play also examines the complex personal side of the three men's lives. While Cato desires to solidify his hold on power and Marcus, the grandson of a slave, wishes to fulfil his ambitions, it is Gregor's very human desire for companionship and appreciation for beauty - mostly to be found in the form of young men - which drive the narrative. A chance sighting of Cato's nephew (Paul-James Corrigan), who has recently been brought into his uncle's employ, kicks off a story which sees the Senator fall prey to both his own weaknesses and to general intolerance.
Carthage runs at around two and a half hours, including an interval, but there is so much meat on this play that the time simply flies by. The story is both epic and personal (one man's individual struggle against the epic backdrop of Roman civilization), and the performances - especially those from Campion and Guilfoyle - are magnetic.
Traverse two's tiny stage is transformed first into a luxurious Roman bath - complete with water, towels, and an appropriately-dressed stagehand - and then a stark Carthiginian apartment for the second half.
Even to the casual viewer, Carthage will come across as being insightful and complex - the sort of story which might benefit from more than one viewing. It is certainly one of the stronger Traverse company pieces to hit the stage in recent years - perhaps since last summer's Petrol Jesus Nightmare No. 5. By holding a mirror up to Roman actions taken over two millennia ago, it shines a light on how far (if at all) politics have moved since then, all the while allowing the story to be told by the individuals whose lives are most affected.
Running until 19th May
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody