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Days of Significance
Originally written as a response to Much Ado about Nothing it centres on a group of young British men in their late teens or early twenties who are destined to fight in Iraq. A few days before they are due to be flown into Basra the soldiers go out clubbing and binge drinking with an equally rat arsed group of girls. Now when one of these men is called Ben (Jamie Davies) and the girl he has his eye on is Trish (Pippa Nixon) we can be forgiven for spotting Benedick and Beatrice. What Days of Significance does is to show the parts glossed over in Much Ado. Whereas Much Ado is about what happens when the soldiers come back from the wars,Days of Significance looks at who went to war, what trauma happened to them in battle and what it felt like returning the same society that they had left, except that the soldiers are very changed people.
What is different about the run of the mill plays on Iraq and this one by Roy Williams is that he looks at the grass roots rather than at the political figures who headed up the operation of war. The first issue is the inexperience of our troops and the irresponsible way they behave towards each other when at play at home. They get paralytic on alcohol, they get into fights, they are out of control. Roy Williams demonstrates their ignorance of the politics in the place to which they are going to fight. When one of their friends gets hurt by the Iraqis, they are unable to act in a restrained and professional way but react like yobs. Is this a new phenomenon or have squaddies always been like this? When in Iraq, they make bad decisions and act recklessly which lays some of them open to prosecution when they return home.
The behaviour and thoughts of the soldiers is contrasted with that of Hannah (Claire-Louise Cordwell), and to a lesser extent Dan (Luke Norris), who remain in the UK and go to university. Even before Jamie goes to Iraq, (Hannah and Jamie form the Claudio and Hero equivalents of Shakespeare’s play) Hannah knows more about Iraqi politics than he does.
Days of Significance is viscerally staged. Even while we were sitting in the café before the show there was a loud altercation as voices were raised and chairs were knocked over and punches thrown. On stage, and off, the fight scenes are really well done, people vomit on staircases and a drunken man exposes himself to deriding girls. Similarly in Iraq we see the wild excesses of sexually bravado videos to be sent back home and the terror of actually being under attack. You cannot see this play without reflecting on how group behaviour eggs on men to behave badly.
Trish and Ben have no happy ending. Ben never has to stand trial for the torture he inflicts on an Iraqi. Trish is bitter, cuts the face of a policewoman in a fight and is stuck wanting to talk about Ben and the war . Roy Williams’ play is neatly crafted with three acts although it is run through without an interval. The first scene is outside the nightclub, the middle scenes are in Iraq and the final scene is at a wedding of two of their friends. The three levels of playing area work well on the stage with the tatty Coca Cola sign doubling for both a run-down town centre and Iraq. There are nice touches like Clare (Beverly Rudd) the bride whose packet of Marlborough was tucked into her nightclubbing outfit bodice, has a packet of fags similarly tucked into the strapless bodice of her wedding dress.
The performances are edgy but very fine. Director Maria Aberg deserves credit for the convincing ensemble. I especially liked James Clyde as Hannah’s stepfather, Lenny and his stabilising influence, his good advice. In the first scene he runs a fast food stall and so witnesses the bad behaviour without having to join in. Pippa Newton as Trish makes the transition from feisty queen bee to has been. Malcolm Ranson’s fight direction is superb.
I can highly recommend Days of Significance —but don’t go if bad language or worse behaviour offends you.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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