Theatre503, London – until 19 November 2016
Like Homer, Virgil and Ovid, Jay Taylor takes inspiration for his writing from the Trojan War. The decade-spanning conflict over one woman is relocated to a lighthouse in a Beckettian present day, where a handful of soldiers wait for orders, years after the war began. There is a woman upstairs – THE woman. Stories are told and tensions mount as time passes and the battle approaches.
This is Taylor’s first play, an impressively polished statement on the effects of war on its soldiers. As the pressure increases on this merry band, some naive and some hardened, personalities clash and desperation increases. The Acedian Pirates is a slow burn of a character study with a fantastic ensemble cast and a potent message, through the script could use some clarity in plot and pace.
Cavan Clarke plays Jacob, a young solider newly stationed at the lighthouse. He’s literary, smokes to much and desperate wants to please his superiors. Taylor gives Jacob a slowly building character arc that Clarke carries admirably and with conviction. Rowan Polonski is the volatile Troy, the commander of this unit who is rarely seen but with a powerful, dangerous presence.
Sheena Patel defies convention as the frankly speaking and harsh cigarette-smoking Helen. Taylor keeps her hidden for much of the script, which although it makes her presence all the more powerful it is a shame that the woman who’s abduction started this war is given so little time to share her female experiences within this masculine landscape.
The design is fantastic, particularly Helen Coyston’s set. There is plenty of detail, from the curved, mossy walls and the shallow staircase that indicates what floor they’re on by a simple, clever pivot around the round floor. Though the set and atmosphere is further detailed through lighting and sound, the set is the star of the design. Taylor and director Bobby Brook have a good instinct for the character conflict that keeps the story moving, through the beginning is still quite slow. The imagery and anecdotes only just save it from stagnating, and things escalate incredibly quickly at the end. A more even narrative arc would give the script a smoother, slicker feel.
Jay Taylor is certainly a writer to watch for his characters and storytelling. Even though this debut play has its issues, it’s a great start.
The Acedian Pirates runs through 19 November.
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