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The Acedian Pirates review at Theatre503, London – ‘ambitious and evocative’

Cavan Clarke and Matthew Lloyd Davies in The Acedian Pirates at Theatre503, London. Photo: Savannah Photographic
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The word acedia is defined as an apathetic listlessness, a moral failing that ruins great men. In Jay Taylor’s ambitious and densely written first play The Acedian Pirates, none of the characters could be described as great men. Rather, the snapshot of the centuries-long military occupation that we witness undermines all notions of heroism. Inspired by Greek mythology, it explores a soldier’s everyday life rather than the glory of battle (there’s a great deal un-heroic behaviour and waiting around for things to happen in The Iliad).

Set in a lighthouse on an unidentified island in what could be the past, present or future, Taylor’s slow-burning play surveys the tedium of war, the ingrained adherence to rigid military protocol and time filled with cigarettes, nostalgic chatter and and old rivalries.

Bobby Brook’s production effectively conveys a dystopian society upheld by macho military values and the evocative set design by Helen Coyston a timeless space.

Cavan Clarke is a moving central figure as 20-year-old Jacob, a sensitive thinker who enlists eager to help people and make a difference, uneasy with his triumphs as killing machine. Andrew P Stephen brings barely-controlled rage to volatile senior officer Bernie, and Sheena Patel brings eerie calm to ‘Helen’, the symbolic woman in white who personifies what both sides are fighting for.

Taylor doesn’t offer many answers to questions about the morality of war but does suggest that the characters’ “acedia” has more to do with circumstances than any innate moral failings – the inevitable consequence of a lifetime of war.

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Thorny debut play exploring the claustrophobia and futility of war