When you strip away the bullshit, the politics and prejudice and cant, the thing huge swathes of the country are most afraid of is training: Trojan cells in inner-city schools recruiting and psychologically arming the next generation of walking bombs and Isis zealots. Pamela Carter’s new play is boot-black dense, a distillation of life in a British army barracks, where a different kind of disillusioned youngster is prepped to fight against them. But what it reveals are parallels, not contrasts, the same emotional absences filled up with the same aggressions, until the men think in fantasies and act in ethical vacuums.
Four soon-to-be squaddies turn up and make their beds, swapping taunts and bantering back and forth in a arid language of weekend benders and boasted lays, bruising easily and lashing out. One is gay, another black, and though casual racism and homophobia are thrown about, Lines isn’t concerned with these so much as the world and the duties that underpin them.
The Yard’s artistic director Jay Miller’s production emphasises that combination of tedium, isolation and sensory overload that aligns the hardening of soldiers with the breaking down of prisoners in ‘Gitmo’. There are clatters of light, distorted commands and a throbbing soundtrack from Josh Grigg and Manni Dee.
An unnecessary interval drains some of the momentum ahead of a short and dream-like second act, but this is still uncompromising, furious work. Isis says it loves death more than it loves life, but as these lost and lonely men fall into ecstasies at Hollywood’s military fantasies, the gap between their doctrines feels as thin as celluloid, or holy parchment. Radicalisation and basic training – the lines that separate them have never seemed thinner, or more suspect.