After a successful run at the Swan in Stratford, Roy Williams’ latest play makes a deserved transfer to the Tricycle.
The play assesses how war affects the underprivileged and Williams is the first playwright to explicitly relate these thoughts to the war in Iraq.
Maria Aberg’s visceral production places the audience up close to the drama. Williams has borrowed the narrative of Much Ado About Nothing but the play and plot stand quite separate from their source. It’s the last night in Britain for two men about to fight for their country in Iraq. Jamie (Craig Gallivan) and Ben (Jamie Davis) are having it large, drinking as much as thy can and hoping to get laid. The town centre is heaving, all explosions of vomit and projectile hamburgers, rivers of urine tracing the stage .
Somehow through all the chaos the lads find their respective ‘angels’, their perfect life partners. Jamie opens up to empathetic, intelligent Hannah (Claire-Louis Cordwell). His hard man exterior crumbles under her scrutiny, his fear and anxiety are exposed. Similarly Ben and the aggressive, abrasive Beatrice (Pippa Nixon) become carnal and kinky, swearing their allegiance to one another. Both of these men reveal that under the surface bravado they are scared and lonely; vulnerable boys who can barely hold their own in a street brawl let alone fight a war for reasons that go over their heads.
After a descent into darkness, we move to the chaos of base camp. The set has changed entirely in its atmosphere. It is dank and dilapidated; it is clear we are in a war zone and the boy soldiers are soon overcome by fear, doubt, despair and paranoia. A child has been killed by their hand and, with another assault pending and no clear leader, they are paralysed, caught in a trap.
From there the play jumps forward in time, back to England and a wedding. But this time things are different. Everyone’s situation has changed. Ben is dead and Jamie is about to be court-martialled for torturing prisoners. Both Hannah and Beatrice are in shock, neither able to articulate their emotions.
Williams’ play has real energy and passion though sometimes it stumbles over itself. The writing can be obvious and clumsy, jarring with the realism of the piece, and the political allusions are sometimes rather heavy-handed, but, in the main, Williams, Aberg and the cast capture the rhythms of the everyday language of an abused class. The performances too, have real power and urgency.
Days of Significance is a complex reflection of the toll war exerts on a society, layered and ambiguous. It resists being simply a debate about the legitimacy of the war in Iraq, concentrating instead on the repercussions on both a community and the individuals within it.
The play is riddled with relevance and a resonance that ensures it will linger long in the memory. Powerful stuff.