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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Tricycle Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  James Clyde and Claire-Louise Cordwell/PH: Keith Pattison

It's difficult to imagine a more thrilling play-for-today than Days of Significance, the Roy Williams drama about a community of hard-living, heavy-drinking young Britons facing combat in Iraq - and none too successfully battling their own wars back home. Spawned as a kind of response to Much Ado About Nothing, Williams's narrative inverts Shakespeare's structure: these are men going off to war, not returning from it, and Williams's abiding affect is tragic, whereas the Bard, of course, folded Beatrice and Benedick into one of his most beloved comedies. But one isn't long into director Maria Aberg's propulsive, faultlessly acted Royal Shakespeare Company production before the affinities to Shakespeare fall away, replaced by the genuine thrill that comes from discovering a writer tapped into his own, utterly singular voice. Some may be surprised that Williams, the black British author of such Royal Court successes as Fallout (which has since been filmed), is here writing about a mostly white community, in a way that we never saw from, say, August Wilson or still haven't seen from Williams's UK contemporary Kwame Kwei-Armah. But Days of Significance goes well beyond issues of race to toll a rudely comic yet also mournful bell for the country - and culture - in which it's set: swinging from celebration to requiem, it's likely to leave you as breathless as it must make its cast (that is, if enough people have a chance to see it: the cruelly brief Tricycle Theatre run finishes March 29 after only 2-1/2 weeks).

Shakespeare's antagonists here resurface as Ben (Jamie Davis) and Trish (Pippa Nixon) - he an alcohol-happy lad out on the piss, as they say, and famous for acting hard, she a tough-talking broad with legs like pincers who will be made hard by the events of the play's three scenes. As with its classic prototype, gossip and scuttlebutt drive the plot, and there are even equivalents of Shakespeare's comic relief constables in Lorraine Stanley's take-no-prisoners Gail, a baton-wielding blonde with a wry line on the seemingly ceaseless booze-ups over which she is forced to preside, But once the scene shifts to Iraq and then, woundingly, back to England and to a narrative twist that can't help but evoke Abu Ghraib, the evening takes its cue not from the Renaissance but from the sputtering last neon gasp of Lizzie Clachan's set: the signs burning out in front of our eyes as if in accordance with a liquor-soaked landscape that emerges here far more vividly than in countless tabloid press accounts of Britain's ever-increasing surrender to binge drinking.

As with Much Ado, whose Claudio/Hero subplot threatens to tilt the entire play toward grief, Days of Significance gives Trish a cousin, Claire-Louise Cordwell's Hannah, who brings out the protectress in a community where talk is cheap and vomit is rife. The Claudio equivalent, Craig Gallivan's Jamie, faces his own wall of chat as regards his fears toward going to Iraq. That apprehension is brought out in a disturbing, beautifully wrought middle section that finds the English hunkered down in a combat for which they are utterly ill-prepared one is yet again reminded of a sobering truth of modern-day warfare, which too often enlists those least equipped for stresses of warfare abroad when they're busy waging their own sorrowful wars at home. (Available video footage, too, makes loss perhaps doubly grievous.) It would be remiss not to point to the abundance of humor in both play and production - Beverly Rudd is a comic sensation as the third scene's festive bride, a packet of cigarettes tucked into her wedding dress, her cheer at least some counterweight to<


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