Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Roy Williams has taken themes from the bard’s comedy about friendship, love and loyalty as a starting point for a hard-hitting, comic, tragic and very contemporary story which deals with the implications of war on an apathetic British youth. Caroline Bishop was at the first night of Days Of Significance at the Tricycle.
The setting is summer 2006, the night before army recruits Jamie and Ben are due to be posted to Iraq. They spend their last night out on the town with their friends, doing what they always do – getting drunk and trying to get laid. While macho Ben spars with sharp-tongued, trashy Trish (real name Beatrice), the more sensitive Jamie falls for her pretty cousin Hannah, and admits to his secret fears about his posting.
Through his characters Williams depicts the different attitudes to the Iraq war among this group of young working-class Britons; while the new recruits display naïve bravado and little awareness of the consequences of their motiveless decision to sign up, their peers are, above all, indifferent, preferring to continue their drink-fuelled evening than give much thought to their friends’ impending tour to Iraq. Among them, only brooding Dan – Williams’s Don John figure – understands what his mate Ben has got himself into and deplores what he considers his stupidity.
The second act shows the shattering wake-up call experienced by Ben and Jamie as they fight in Iraq, mentally floundering and gradually losing the ability to decipher right from wrong in a war they don’t even understand. Meanwhile, those left behind continue their small lives with their small preoccupations, captured in a bubble which is unaffected by the actions of their friends fighting in Iraq.
Using strong language and imagery, Williams’s play is a vivid, shocking portrait of the consequences of a war which is treated with contempt or indifference at home, and the tragic pointlessness of fighting without ideals.
Days Of Significance plays at the Tricycle until 29 March.