Bringing the play Britannia Waves The Rules to Blackpool & the Fylde College Studio Theatre is a brave move by LeftCoast and one which has a long-term audience development objective in mind and, since the show has now moved on to other venues on the Arts Council funded strategic tour, it’s worth reiterating some of the context of this production and just how important that is in the trajectory of arts activity in the town.
This play won The Bruntwood Prize in 2011. To give some context for this; Bruntwood is the UK’s biggest playwriting competition. Since its inception in 2005, over 7000 scripts have been entered, £160,000 has been awarded to 15 prize winning writers and eight winning productions have been staged. Set by Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, it is an extremely well-subscribed contest that is closely watched by playwrights, directors, producers and actors alike. Judging panels have included Nicholas Hytner, Meera Syal, Miranda Sawyer, Tanika Gupta, Marianne Elliott, Benedict Nightingale, Simon Stephens and Maxine Peake .
It is this knowledge that leads theatre-going audiences to seek out these plays and why when it was first produced by Royal Exchange critics said “a fast, furious and action-packed hour and a half, filled with rage” and “It’s easy to see why theatres would be wary of producing Farr’s drama – it would frighten anybody. Britannia Waves the Rules is a brutally graphic account of a young man’s journey from the wet sand of Blackpool to the arid grit of Afghanistan; no writer has tried to pack so much molten fury into a working-class character since Alan Sillitoe” and when it played in Manchester and at Edinburgh Festival, it was to packed houses.
Writer Gareth Farr’s central character Carl was so worn down by the apathy, myopia and willingness of the residents of his home town to passively let it be ‘raped’ by the visitors, that he joins the army. It is ironic therefore that once again we had a unique opportunity to experience a high-calibre arts offering in Blackpool with a small ticket price, and yet the house was not packed to the rafters. Those students who did attend and who, at the post-show conversation were obviously in awe of the style of show and being in the direct company of professional actors, will obviously take a great deal from the experience. (The sweetness of this interaction was highlighted by the moment when the company admitted they had been nervous about appearing in front of the home crowd and young actor Luke Roskell reiterated on his ‘research’ trip he’d had a great experience of the town “Have you been on the Tower 4D experience??!”)
Whether you like the splattered paint aesthetic of the play, agree with the bleak single-state lighting design, enjoy the in-your-face pummelling of a young actor running on the spot as if towards you for periods of time, marvel at how so many characters can be played by so few actors, consider the theme of small-town frustration to be beautifully conveyed through the eyes of a young man destined for so much more, are angered by our political stance on foreign policy, feels sort of irrelevant.
If, however, you have ever wished that Blackpool arts scene had more variety to offer, if you were ever frustrated by the focus of entertainment being tailored towards the holiday-makers, if you have any interest in forging a career in the art; you should have been at Blackpool & Fylde College Studio Theatre on Monday night. Be part of the conversation and support the next initiative because without numbers, this work just won’t be able to be repeated. The play is touring to other North West venues until the end of October.
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