Carthage Must Be Destroyed (4 stars)

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 19 May


It is incontestable that politicians aren’t held in high esteem these days, but what is often missed by those who criticise the political classes is that it might be the system itself that dehumanises our leaders, rather than their individual characters. It’s an intelligent point to make, and it’s made forcibly in Alan Wilkins’ adroit and profoundly observant political play at the Traverse.

Here we meet four characters at the outset of the Third Punic War, whose resemblance to modern politicians needs no amplification. Their plan to start a war against Carthage involves hyping up a military threat in order to justify invasion. The war itself, the play suggests, starts like the Falklands, a military conflict staged in order to distract from bad news at home, and ends like Iraq, a colonial adventure mired in interminable bloodshed with little end in sight.

We follow the fortunes of Gregor (Sean Campion), a senator with a penchant for young boys, and publicist for leader Cato (Tony Guilfoyle) who fixes public opinion in favour of war. Cato himself, with constant shibboleths about the need to trust him, and an apparently strong moral vision, also bears a striking resemblance to Blair. Add to this the fastidious and moralistic wannabe Marcus (Damian Lynch) and a representative of first apathetic and privileged, then passionate and nihilistic youth (Paul-James Corrigan) and Wilkins’ forensic dialogue sets off a tough talking and tautly narrated drama, in which the one character with (somewhat lamentable) human emotional traits is destroyed by an inhumane political culture. Lorne Campbell’s production in front of Kenny Miller’s smart black marbled bath house (and later ruined city) set maintains the tension and exploits the grim wit of the text splendidly, and there are four terrific performances, with Campion’s languid and later politically desperate senator a highlight.

(Steve Cramer)

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