In Carthage playwright Chris Thompson aims to answer the question he feels has haunted him his entire career in social work, “what good did I actually do?” The play is at times wildly visceral, plunging the audience into panic and confusion as Tommy, a violent young offender is forcibly restrained. But it fails to achieve its aims hindered by a lack of specificity, and being overly sympathetic to it’s characters.
Carthage begins as a play about responsibility, and the desire for culpability, but soon the characters descend into finger pointing, each hoping to evade blame for Tommy’s death. This should be a catalyst for drama, but the arguments are thin and no one really seems to have anything to lose.
What are astounding though are the performances. Claire-Louise Cordwell excels as Anne, Tommy’s feckless mother. But it’s Jack McMullen who really steals the show. A product of forces beyond his control, McMullen manages to find the sensitivity and vulnerability in a boy who behaves like a cornered animal – speaking of his fellow inmates, a sliver of doubt quivers in his voice as he yells, “I ain’t scared of them Sue!”
The death of a minor or vulnerable adult whilst in custody is a controversial topic, one that should bleed drama. But Carthage feels too vague and insubstantial to capitalise on its content.
** (2 stars)