*** CONTENT NOTE: Although this review is not graphic in its content, the production reviewed should be mentions and / or depicts rape, war scenes, homophobia, death of a parent, racism, and gory scenes ***
Britannia Waves the Rules is a good, high intensity play that flourishes thanks to a stunning performance from its lead actor, but suffers for poor direction of supporting cast, and uninspiring costume, set and lighting decisions.
Connor Dumbrell as Carl delivered one of the strongest, tightest performances seen in Cambridge and held the audience in the palm of his hand. From his opening poem, he perfectly judged physicality and vocalisation, expressing a striking range of emotions in quick succession. Whether angry, sad, hopeful or menacing, everything was delivered with fantastic intensity and aplomb in a well sustained accent. The play is at its best when he is alone on stage – I found myself wondering if the play would have worked better as one long monologue.
Suffering by comparison and through what appeared to be weak directorial decisions, the supporting cast felt both underdeveloped and overdone. All needed to be more confident, more aware of the space, and less static. It is all very well trying to create a degree of separation between Carl and those he is speaking of at any given point, but this would have been more effective with good lighting, allowing the actors to do more than stand around melodramatically. Although all showed individual talent, the general effect became very caricatured, and jarred with Dumbrell’s performance.
That is, until Ian Blackwell emerged as Carl’s dad. For the first time, the use of another character in a scene added something, and Blackwell is good in the role. Later on, during what shall be known as ‘The beard saga’, holding his hands over his face and adeptly sticking his beard between his legs, his ability to maintain composure showed a certain amount of skill and dedication. My best advice would be to ditch the stick-on beard, as amusing as it was (although any future audiences would be missing out on what was, unfortunately, one of the funniest things I’ve seen this term).
Malcolm Ebose as Bilko is also skillful, though needed to commit to his performance more – something he is well capable of, as evidenced by his last scene, which was forceful and powerful in its subtlety. Fran Davis as Mum has a wonderfully expressive face and sings well, yet could have been more dynamic, though the directorial decision to have her be distant did follow a certain logic. Mishal Bandukda as Goldie grows into her role, initially looking quite uncomfortable but still performing well in a scene set outside a nightclub. Here, the greatest flaw was the time given over to an incredibly awkward and unnatural looking kiss. This was a testament to another flaw in the production: at times, actors looked uncomfortable with each other, whether aggressive or romantic.
Britannia Waves the Rules is well worth seeing, if only for Dumbrell’s fantastic starring turn, and gives plenty of opportunity to assess Cambridge’s newest crop of actors.