‘We fight, we win, we carry on’, recites Carl Jackson (Dan Parr), the Blackpool lad conscripted into the Army at the promise of seeing the world. His disillusionment at the economic woe that has entrenched his hometown is palpable: at first glance all glittery lights and arcade noises, but beneath that façade, a borough of joblessness and social immobility.
Jackson, a throwback to the Angry Young Men that suffered through bankrupt societies of the 50s, spits and shrieks his way through a stunningly powerful portrayal of a boy forced into maturity and discipline amidst the war in Afghanistan. Why do young boys join the army in the first place? A question that bulldozes through this comprehensive work from the Royal Exchange: gravelly, boisterous and bruising.
While Parr’s performance climbs to excessive levels, a boiling kettle, his thunderstruck fury works so beautifully in Paines Plough’s Roundabout, an arena in which we witness the hushed, shocked or devastated expressions of fellow audience members. Led by threatening direction from Nick Bagnall, Britannia talks of war in familiar ways, but ones that continue to pervade all aspects of life today, from scooping up working-class boys to throwing them into battle half a world away. It is still chillingly relevant, tragic in fact, to the point where it batters us into submission.