Set in the top of a lighthouse in an unfamiliar past or future dystopia, The Acedian Pirates explores the morality and logic of war through the story of a failing occupation. This play knits together familiar stories of war, such as that of Helen and Troy, and reinvents them with a touch of black comedy. The small stage at Theatre 503 is transformed by the work of director, producer and designer (Bobby Brook, Tara Finney, and Helen Coyston respectively) into a mutedly dilapidated lighthouse, and is assuredly one of the most striking sets I have seen at a fringe venue. Simon Slater’s composition is filmic in feel and works well with the loosely dream-like sequences in the play. However, the infrequent use of sound is, in a way, representative of the production’s overall tendency to not utilise its own strengths.
The play centres on Jacob, a military intelligence officer, who has wound up at the top of the lighthouse among the upper levels of military control. In the room above is the woman they call Helen, whose whole life has been reduced to part of a story as a result of her involvement in the war. That this play is staged only in the gaps between action leads to one of its major difficulties: it is a play which presents many of the issues inherent in modern conflict, but doesn’t process them to a find real point of conclusion. The way that contemporary political stories, for example those found in the narrative of neoliberalism, have a bearing on the daily reality of war, are not fully exposed by the conclusion of the play. The ethical enquiries into individual responsibility within war that Jacob directly challenge are also a little underdeveloped. I feel that, ultimately, the myths of war which the play seeks to debunk are not visible enough among the many strands and ideas presented to the audience in each scene.
Strong acting from Cavan Clarke, playing Jacob, effectively teases out the quiet humour of his well-developed character but elsewhere actors are unsuited to the action of their characters. Rowan Polonski as a psychopathic Troy captured some, but not all, of the character’s menace. The direction fell down at points when humour was sat right in the heart of a darker scene, drawing attention to problems with comic timing. Pacing issues in the first half of the play were much improved as the play developed. The physical movement of characters Jacob, Helen, and Bernie was impressive to watch and very engaging – but did highlight the need for a rebalancing of action and dialogue within the production as a whole.
The Acedian Pirates attempts a lot within the space and time it has, and its best ideas are a not effectively or fully drawn out in the narrative. Contained inside the script are perspectives on war that would have made a much more concise and cleaner play. The strange social codes at work in the isolated universe of conflict, and the way that the language of war is severed from its own reality, are both promising topics for a production team that have skill and imagination. Jacob’s quiet but resolute drawing attention to the ‘raptus’ of Helen, rather than reference to ‘the mission which brought her here’, is indicative of the subtlety the production is capable of. The strange sexual hierarchies at play in the military world create a foreboding undertone which I would really like to have seen developed as part of the plot. In all, it is a play with as many things to provoke feeling and thought in the audience, but I left feeling a little unsatisfied.
The Acedian Pirates is on at Theatre 503 until the 19 November. Please see Theatre 503 for more information.
Photo: Savannah Photographic