Britannia Waves the Rules (Edinburgh Fringe)

Gareth Farr’s play makes good use of Paines Plough’s Roundabout auditorium

There is no shortage of drama criticising recent and ongoing conflicts and Britain’s role within them. Gareth Farr’s Bruntwood Award-winning Britannia Waves the Rules, produced by the Royal Exchange, joins that roll call, offering a familiar but nonetheless gut-churning picture of military life in Afghanistan.

Here, the armed forces are seen through the eyes of Carl Jackson, a young would be poet desperate to escape and see the world. Enticed by the promise that in the army "you can be anything you want to be", he joins up and soon finds himself at the heart of conflict, his already battered mental state slowly splintering under gunfire.

In some ways, however, Farr’s play is more excoriating in its critique of austerity Britain than it is in its depiction of combat. Blackpool born and bred Carl is out of options in his home town, where flashing lights conceal black despair. As Farr presents it, this is a place where career prospects are non-existent and "a wage is a cage". Against such a backdrop, the army looks like an exit route, when of course it’s just a cage by another name.

Dan Parr performs the central role with scorching intensity, all muscular rage and wide-eyed fear. Straining against a taut elastic cord, he is forever running on his way to nowhere. There’s tenderness, too, offering a poignant hint of what has been lost. Parr is supported by a cast who swap in and out of the other roles, all prowling around one another in the aptly claustrophobic environment of Paines Plough’s intimate Roundabout auditorium.

As it marches onwards, the show struggles to maintain its explosive power, which is ratcheted up to an unsustainable level. In spite of flaws, though, it’s an impressive demonstration of the confrontational potential of the Roundabout, where none of us are allowed to escape the action.

Britannia Waves the Rules runs at Roundabout @ Summerhall until 10 August