thu 22/08/2019

Days of Significance, touring | reviews, news & interviews

Days of Significance, touring

Days of Significance, touring

Roy Williams' Iraq play still has shocking, engrossing power

We are in a southern English town on a Friday night, with alcohol-fuelled behaviour that includes indecent amounts of puking, urinating, fighting, snogging and willy-waving. Young squaddies Ben (Toby Wharton) and Jamie (George Rainsford) are not just back from battle but are about to go off to Basra, and want to raise hell with their mates before they go. The young men flirt and cavort with girls at the local club and in sparky dialogue we see that the soldiers have more than met their match in cousins Trish (Sarah Ridgeway) and Hannah (Joanna Horton).

Hannah, about to escape the confines of this working-class life by going to university, is the moral heart of the play, while Dan (Luke Norris), who never misses an opportunity to wind up "soldier boy" Jamie, is miffed that his friend Ben has ignored his pleas not to put himself in danger. Williams neatly balances the anti- and pro-Iraq arguments by counterpointing Hannah and Dan’s naive doubts about the war with Jamie and Ben’s braggadocio.

In the second act, we see Jamie and Ben in Iraq. At first their video messages home are reminiscent of the First World War’s innocent “It’ll all be over by Christmas”, giving way to excitement about seeing some real action. And then they are caught behind enemy lines; one has done a terrible deed to local civilians, the other will later commit a war crime. When the third act begins, one of them is about to face a court martial.

Williams captures the argot of people who may be lacking in formal education but are rich in colourful insults. The dialogue is blunt, frequently coarse, and often laugh-out-loud funny. But in the play’s more tender moments we realise how these characters struggle to express emotions through anything other than cussing, aggression or sexual desire - the beautifully played scenes between Hannah and her stepfather Len (David Kennedy), for example, are full of crackling ambiguity - and when Trish finally realises the truth about what Ben did in Iraq, she cannot find words to express her confusion, rage and guilt. The exchanges between Hannah and Jamie, where she gradually coaxes him to express his fears about going into battle, are particularly affecting.

Since its first outing at Stratford, where it was given a promenade staging, Williams has reworked the third act of Days of Significance into a wedding scene - although unlike anything that the Bard may have imagined, with its brawling, amusingly awful karaoke and verbally incontinent speeches - which now points to a more satisfactory conclusion of the characters’ stories. This conventionally staged production loses none of the play’s fizzing energy and the young cast are magnificent. It is a mite too long, and those who don’t pay full attention in the second act may be confused by what transpires in the third. But this remains an engrossing and vitally important play of our time.

Days of Significance is at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday and then tours until 28 November. Information

Read theartsdesk Q&A with Roy Williams

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters