Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
If international politics were run by more drunkards, as one character in Alan Wilkins’ new play suggests, no wars would be necessary. This is one of a stream of epigrams punched out the mouths of Rome’s most powerful men in this bloodily intelligent piece of imagined history. Taking the real-life backdrop of Rome’s third assault on Carthage between 149 and 146BC, its obvious metaphor for contemporary war-mongering becomes a serious exploration of the erotics of power, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Howard Barker’s grander works.
In a bath house where men talk business in the guise of pleasure, flamboyant mandarin Gregor toys with ambitious rookie Marcus inbetween eyeing up the would-be poet nephew of elder statesman Cato, a man shrewd enough to recognise the economic capital to be made from contrived conflict. With potential sex scandals blighting his cause, however, he exiles Gregor to Carthage itself, while his own rhetoric goes for the popular vote.
Wilkins’ play at various times points to The Falklands, Vietnam, Iraq’s WMD myth and the entire New Labour folly. Electrifyingly played on the reflective gloss of Kenny Miller’s set, Lorne Campbell’s production reveals a fantastically ambitious treatise on the fickle nature of power itself. As Cato, Tony Guilfoyle is a tightly-coiled moralist, and Damian Lynch’s Marcus an increasingly smart operator. Sean Campion’s Gregor, though, is a remarkable study of one man’s rise and fall. From brazen self-serving hedonist to a gibbering shambles of his former glory, his late grasp of morality becomes a symbol of how empires totter. In Wilkins’ world, Carthage may be destroyed, but this Rome burns with vigorous intent.
The Herald, May 1st 2007