Britannia Waves the Rules

Britannia Waves the Rules, presented by Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, is a brilliant play. The pop-up 'state of the art amphitheatre' of Roundabout @ Summerhall is the perfect setting for this dynamic, physical piece.

Director Nick Bagnall’s use of audience interaction keeps each audience member captivated regardless of their seating.

The highest commendation must be awarded to the actors. Dan Parr, playing Carl Jackson, maintains an astonishing energy throughout his eighty minutes on the stage. He travels magnificently through innocence, rage, lust, fear and ultimately psychosis, considering each with as much fervour as the last. This piece and its director ask a lot of this young actor and he does not fail to affect us. Parr's tenderness is often precipitated by the highly impressive Francesca Zoutewelle. She is flawless in her supporting role, convincingly transferring her demeanour from chirpy, comedic Goldie to Jackson's hoary, distant mother. The excellent cast is completed by Roger Evans and Michael Peavoy, the former touching on the sublime with his perfect characterisation of a lost, lonely, housebound father.

While the show does contain four actors in total, the director and the piece require the lead to completely occupy the space. Parr's character does not leave the stage throughout and he successfully retains the attention of all, a challenging feat especially in a theatre-in-the-round setting. Director Nick Bagnall’s use of audience interaction, facilitated by the script’s numerous breaches of the fourth wall, keeps each audience member captivated regardless of their seating.

What too makes this piece stand out is its writing. The play lacks overt didacticism, something encountered regularly in original theatre pieces. We are left wondering in this piece who it is that comes under the damning assessment of writer Gareth Farr. The Army receives a generally poor reception but Jackson's character in my eyes is far more than a traditional 'clever boy led astray.’ He is angry, rageful and vulnerable. Some who see this play may view him as intelligent and socially aware, others as a stupid part of the stupid system he decries. The most difficult interpretation to accept is that he is unremarkable and ordinary, proving why he makes such a brilliant lens through which to view this terribly common story of a young man led astray by the armed forces.

These questions are asked throughout this complex script. Jackson is promised to “see the world” but unfortunately he sees far too much of it. The piece is topical and current as much as it is universal, insofar as explorations of post-traumatic stress disorder invariably have their roots in the centennial First World War.

In this play, cast, director, space, sound and light come together in ferocious tandem to explore the complexities of this script. It is a piece whose emotional rawness makes it hard to forget.

Reviews by Duncan Grindall

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Carl Jackson doesn't fit in at home. When he joins the army, he sees it as a chance to escape the grim reality of life. But it doesn’t matter where he runs to, or how hard or how fast – there are too many battles for him to win them all. And when Carl comes home, it’s not as a hero but a changed man. Fast, furious and filled with rage, this play is a scream of protest at the state of the world.

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