Fourteen years have passed since David Ian Rabey directed his own new writing, and it’s a welcome return for the Welsh theatre scene. In keeping with his previous works Rabey challenges societal perceptions through his writing and, in Land of my Fathers, that attention turns to male masculinity. Specifically, his frenetic three-hander explores the relationship between soldiers bandied together in warzones, forced to demonstrate loyalty for one another in the harshest of environments.
Male masculinity isn’t the only theme explored in Land of My Fathers – discussions about national identity and the morality of war also feature heavily. That’s a lot to unpack in a two-act play and, unfortunately, there just isn’t the time for it all to digest. Each separate theme pulls the story in opposing directions, and the play ends up feeling more like a series of set pieces than a coherent narrative. It’s most noticeable during an extended period of expositional dialogue in the first act – informative, yes, but it doesn’t progress the story.
The set-pieces are, for the most part, solidly done. Rabey successfully treads a fine line between visceral physicality and poetic dialogue, with the actors responding in kind. Huw Blainey stands out from the trio with an intense performance. The young actor gives it his all as Cai, who is both the meatiest and most antagonistic character. Oliver Morgan-Thomas also excels as Owain, the closest to a direct opposing figure to Cai. It’s the character the audience identifies most with and, when given the chance, Morgan-Thomas shines. Unfortunately Russell Gomer, as Iestyn, isn’t given that same nuance to play with. There’s certainly scope for nuance in Iestyn, but Gomer seems to fluctuate between playing it straight and sending it up. In the end, he falls short of both.
It’s symptomatic of the play as a whole. A deliberately obvious James Bond parody suggests a filmic and somewhat comic element to the show, but neither of these are fully realised. There is some beautifully designed digital scenography from Piotr Woycicki, but this too feels under-developed. Some sequences are accompanied by simple digital backdrops (like a pub setting), while others are far more abstract. There’s no denying that they benefit the play visually, but they also loosely mask what is already a flawed script.
A late twist again takes the narrative into a different, albeit exciting, direction, but the play ends before that direction can be explored. It’s another one of a lot of very interesting ideas in Land of my Fathers that Rabey fails to give his full attention to. What could be a handful of very good stories instead becomes one lacklustre play that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.