By Jeremy Miles
This excellent Royal Shakespeare Company touring production of Roy Williams’ bleak but brilliant play could not be more apposite.
It opened in Poole on the eve of Armistice Day with the news dominated by a grieving mother’s fury about lack of Government support for British troops fighting abroad.
That of course was a reference to Afghanistan. Williams’ play happens to be about Iraq. It makes little difference. This harrowing drama deals superbly with the slaughter of youth and the massacre of ideals that occur when you send young soldiers to war.
Using elements of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in its portrayal of relationships, it explores the boozed-up bravado of Jamie and Ben (George Rainsford and Toby Wharton) two young squaddies about to be dispatched on active service.
In a loud, mindless evening of vomit, violence and alcohol induced incontinence, they are ready to fight (or have sex) with anyone.
Move forward a few weeks and they are terrified but still talking tough as they find themselves trapped in a sniper’s alley in the backstreets of Basra.
Gradually the brutality of war takes over as girlfriends and mates back home become more distant. The dreamed of homecoming is twisted by anguish when Ben is killed and declared a hero. Jamie meanwhile finds himself reviled and facing charges of torturing insurgents. The truth however is not quite so simple.
With a great set used for the urban battlefields of both Basra and Britain on a Friday night, director Maria Aberg holds a magnifying glass to the ignorance, racism and double standards that inevitably occur when young soldiers are forced to fight for causes they don’t really understand.
In this case it isn’t a lack of helicopters and serviceable kit that comes under scrutiny but the practice of sending fighters who aren’t even remotely equipped psychologically for the job in hand. Drawn from the lower stratas of a society in near social meltdown, they are the British equivalent of ‘the grunts’ who provided so much cannon fodder in Vietnam.
Like America in the 1970s we are increasingly watching as our boys come home in boxes and bodybags.
*Days of Significance runs at Lighthouse, Poole, until Saturday