Britannia Waves the Rules, Royal Exchange studio, review: A transfixing performance


A seaside sandpie is scattered across the stage with a single violent kick at the start of Gareth Farr’s scream-of-rage of a play Britannia Waves the Rules.

The sand becomes the beach at Blackpool and then the deadly desert of Afghanistan in the tale of a young man who leaves behind a dead-end life to join the Army in a terrible rite of passage.

It is a singular story. For the protagonist, Carl, is struggling still with the death of his mother five years before.

His morose emotionally-constipated father, and silent staring Uncle Charles, offer no help.

But Carl is an Everyman Trooper too in his progress from the embracing camaraderie of training to the merciless reality of war and the vortex of pain, frustration, anger and despair it induces in him.

Dan Parr explodes across the stage as Carl in a performance of considerable subtlety. He has a beautiful conversational engagement with the audience. He is funny in his encounter with two pseudo-Manc drug-dealer brothers.

He seems artless in delivering the rap-style poetry he composes to give voice to his alienation. And he has extraordinary power when he repeatedly runs, straining literally at the leash of a bungee cord, as he seeks to control his spittle-flecked rage.

Director Nick Bagnall finely modulates a transfixing performance, with a strong supporting cast, which is en route to the Edinburgh Festival.