‘Acedia’ is a state of listlessness, an indecisiveness that pervades and creates ennui in one’s life and one’s surroundings. It’s an ineffective restlessness, an apathy that can be associated with moral failing. Playwright Jay Taylor uses the idea of acedia to envision a world not far from ours where a war has been raging for years. It’s built on good intentions, or at least good propaganda, with soldiers called ‘peace-keepers’, intelligence units, and the idle dream of going ‘home’.
With strong allusions to Troy and the abduction of Helen, Taylor’s script is insistent on the examination of stories: how they are created, perpetuated, mutilated and exploited. Jacob (Cavan Clarke) has recently moved to the other side of the island to find himself in an intelligence unit, where Helen (Sheena Patel) is kept as an enduring symbol for the war effort. As Jacob faces the frontline and begins to doubt their mission, he reexamines the foundational narratives that underpin his beliefs.
In this post-apocalyptic world of war, the stage is meticulously crafted as an long-standing outpost. There is a circular port window and a broken single bed, and a moving staircase that rotates around the centre-island stage. Director Bobby Brook strives to create an atmosphere of unease, with ambient music accompanying conversation. And most of the play is just that: Jacob speaks with commanders Ivan (Matthew Lloyd-Davies), Bull (Marc Bannerman) and Bernie (Andrew P Stephen) in friendly, if not at times laboured, dialogue as they prepare to go home.
But it’s difficult to maintain energy in the inertia, and Taylor’s meditations sometimes feel unsuited to dramatic action. Only with news of the enemy approaching does the pace pick up, and we are offered a strong scene between Clarke and Patel. Clarke delivers an alert, nuanced, and endearing Jacob, whose intelligence and morality jar with the world in which he lives. Other characters act more as symbols of menace and power than as actual people. The trouble arises when they interact with each other; these character studies work independently but feel woolly in more naturalistic dialogue.
The driving message of The Acedian Pirates is a moral one. It acts as a warning against the dangers of unjustified beliefs, and the perils that follow in the quest for heroism. And while this cautionary message is certainly pressing and relevant these days, it is almost overstated at the expense of its meaning. There is a strong vision and will in The Acedian Pirates, but more complexity and contrast is needed to bring the message home.
The Acedian Pirates is on until 19th November 2016 at Theatre503. Click here for more details.