REVIEW: Britannia Waves The Rules

Esmé O’Keeffe reports on a moving, if slightly unpolished, performance.

ADC Cambridge Cambridge University Corpus Playroom Freshers Student Students the tab Theatre

‘For Queen and Country’ Carl declares as he marches off to war in Afghanistan.

So soon after Remembrance Sunday, we are reminded that little in terms of war and conflict has changed.

‘Britannia Waves The Rules’ is a highly moving account of a young working class boy’s struggle to find a purpose in life and shrug off his unsalubrious origins. Having joined the army, Carl is sent to Afghanistan where he experiences the horrors of war first-hand. The play deftly raises questions about life after living through such atrocities, and about the reintegration of soldiers into society.15025667_1216914881715623_5912521424193982527_o

The play opens with a gritty monologue as Carl, played by Connor Dumbrell, relates his childhood and his disenchantment with his shell of a home town, Blackpool. In fact, Dumbrell carried the entire show from start to finish, outshining almost all other characters with his powerful delivery, his control of energy and pace, and his ability to bring a tear to the audience’s eye throughout the turbulent plot. Whilst it may seem a simple element to pick up on, it is a challenging feat to sustain clear diction with a pronounced Northern accent, but sustain it he did.

As someone who is familiar with Blackpool and the under-privileged areas mentioned in the script, I thought Connor Dumbrell’s portrayal of the desperation and future-less cul-de-sac in which many local working-class boys are trapped was highly convincing and all too real. Sadly, other members of the cast lacked this authenticity, their accents failing to convince me they had ever even visited the North West.

The  performance of the local drug dealers also detracted from the gritty reality of life in working-class Blackpool which Dumbrell communicated so well. Their exaggerated costumes didn’t help, and I found myself cringing at their laboured plugs for laughs. The representation of the local drug dealers in this way seemed to make a mockery of the dark underbelly of Blackpool, which for the many who come into contact with it, is no laughing matter. This was perhaps a missed opportunity on the director’s part to tap into the darker side of society.

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So soon after Remembrance Sunday, we are reminded that little in war and conflict has changed.

There were some other mishaps – the failure of the father’s stick-on beard to stick had the audience tittering with laughter, but this again detracted from the hard-hitting content and distracted the actors. Hopefully, this was just a teething problem on the first night, and the beard shall behave itself from now on.

However, it certainly wasn’t bad. The lighting and sound worked well, and one technical feature which particularly deserves a mention was the use of bungee cords clipped to the back of Carl’s trousers as he ran on the spot, reflecting his urge to break free and his feeling of being held back by his ‘shitty’ hometown.

In addition to this, Bilko’s death on the Afghanistan front line was sensitively and poignantly portrayed by Malcolm Ebose who, throughout the rest of the play, played his often comic part with excellent timing and verve. Scenes of war were powerful, hard-hitting and acted with an energy that shook the audience.

Despite notable weaknesses in parts, it is on the whole a well-directed play with a thought-provoking script.

It certainly is a play worth seeing, if anything for Dumbrell’s very moving portrayal of a working-class boy broken by the horrors of war.

3.5/5 stars