Writer: Roy Williams
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: Clare Howdon
Roy William’s blisteringly topical play ‘Days of Significance’ first opened at the Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon in 2007, four years after the war in Iraq began. The Royal Shakespeare Company has now embarked upon a nationwide tour of the piece (with a few re-workings by the playwright – notably to the third act) and thanks to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq earlier this year, ‘Days of Significance’ remains a relevant and stimulating way to spend a cold November evening.
‘Days of Significance’ is not your typical war play and it covers a variety of modern-day issues but William’s writing is at its most effective when questioning the impact that war has on the grass-root members of society (whether soldiers or civilians) as opposed to the politicians; the young boys who fight in a war they barely comprehend and are ill-equipped to deal with the horrors and eventual repercussions they will undoubtedly experience. William’s brings the piece bitingly up to date with a commentary on who exactly is to blame for the illegal war crimes in Iraq whilst juxtaposing this with some nice classical parallels from Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ namely in the relationship between Ben and Trish, a Benedict and Beatrice for the binge drinking generation.
This is certainly a play of three acts, and whilst the booze-soaked town-centre location of Act One is as far away from Basra as one can possibly comprehend, a short second act powerfully and harrowingly displays to us the first-hand account of the war in Iraq whilst Act Three deals with the aftermath of the young soldiers and their loved ones experiences.
William’s complex and highly empathetically characters are certainly brought to life by a strong cast. Joanna Horton’s subtle portrayal as Hannah is beautifully measured and there are some moments of lovely tenderness and chemistry between her and Jamie (played with electrifying intensity by George Rainsford). David Kennedy also turns in a compassionate performance as Hannah’s step dad Lenny and the delivery of his line ‘Hannah, you’re breaking my heart’, the upshot of a very uncomfortable proposition by his daughter, is a moment of real show-stopping emotion.
Lizzie Clachan’s imposing set is also complimented wonderfully by a rousing lighting and sound design by David Holmes and Carolyn Downing, which coupled with a superb fight sequence by Malcolm Ranson created one of the most gripping and exciting opening sequences I have seen in the theatre in a long time.
Maria Aberg’s direction is also slick and the well paced dialogue creates a lightning-fast dramatic force which sits well in a piece of this nature, whilst effectively choreographed moments of calm (Jamie and Hannah’s alcohol fuelled slow dance outside Len’s chip shop being a prime example) punctuate this and bring a much needed element of tranquillity to what is ultimately an exhausting and tense 110 minutes of theatre.
There are moments of the production that feel less effective, for example the filmic elements, which despite being visually dynamic, do seem a little gratuitous and don’t add a massive amount more to the narrative context of an already lengthy piece. Nonetheless, this is an important piece of writing brought to life by a talented and passionate cast and crew, and its merits certainly outweigh its flaws.
Runs until Sat 28th Nov