A warm orange spotlight is all that illuminates the actors as they sit upstage. A low, constant background hum from the live guitar is present from the start. Plucked strings, slides and percussive slapping act as the heartbeat for Code of Conduct, dictating pace and tension and adding pathos in poignant passages. Nick Webb’s composition and performance serve to complement Sean McLevy’s direction, in a clever collaboration between production members – throughout the play there is a sense of gentle unease, an undercurrent of trouble that keeps the audience engaged and a little on edge. They are subconsciously in tune with the central unhinged character Adam (Donovan Imber) before the plot even unfolds.
Now a grown-up, Adam (Imber) is a police officer with a past. What exactly happened between him and his now deceased father remains unknown, but he has a score to settle with his old neighbour and father’s comrade Frank (McLevy). With the aid of Frank’s disgruntled son Sean (Tom Page) and fellow lay-about youth Liam (Alex Canwell), Adam may just be able to exact his revenge. But his inability to let go is ultimately ruining the family life he has built for himself with Claudette (Alison Swann) and his children. John Berry writes Code of Conduct as a social commentary, an antithesis to the classically accepted proverb ‘children should be seen and not heard’.
The question that concludes this production is that of blame and guilt. Claudette and Frank sit together and look to absolve themselves of Adam’s indiscretions by placing that blame onto each other. But is either responsible for not actively attempting to rectify the wrongs in another person’s life? Claudette is a tired, overworked wife in an understaffed NHS system (a dollop of political opinion thrown in for good measure by Berry) and Frank is a retired army veteran who chose to interpret the pleas of a child as an overreaction. Whilst both actors embody their characters’ tired existences to good effect, Swann in particular seems to bear the brunt of her husband’s outbreaks with greater strain as the play progresses. Berry’s writing interweaves the altercations in couple’s fractured marriage with the naïve, misguided plotting of Sean (Page) and Liam (Canwell) to get one up on their ageing father; the juxtaposition shows parental and child perspectives and adds further dimension to the story of a child’s anguish against his now-deceased abusive father.
The star performance is given by the central character. As Adam, Imber is able to convey the layers of internal conflict and the deeply embedded anger that his character experiences. Imber’s antagonist is more than his job, his life – despite his devotion to catching criminals he isn’t satisfied because no matter how many are put behind bars, nothing can undo the scars of his past. Imber displays those hidden scars for all to see in a well-rounded performance. Code of Conduct is a well-rounded production overall in fact, marrying clear direction with short, sharp writing and competent acting in a play that is as warming as the orange spotlight shining throughout.
Code of Conduct plays at Sweet Waterfront until 3 June as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For more information, see the Brighton Fringe website.