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Wilkins takes the route from Carthage to Iraq

STARVED into submission following a three-year siege, Carthage burned at the hands of Rome.

Seventeen days on, with the walled city nothing more than a smoking pyre, its once 250,000-strong population reduced to a mere 50,000 slaves, the third Punic war ended, bringing to a close more than a century of conflict between the age-old adversaries.

It is against the backdrop of the circumstances leading up to this war that Edinburgh playwright Alan Wilkins has set his second collaboration with the Traverse Theatre's associate director, Lorne Campbell.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed, the latest play in the Cambridge Street theatre's 2007 season, receives its world premiere on Sunday, after two previews, beginning tonight.

Wilkins' retelling of the war, which raged from 150BC and 146BC, promises to be a compelling story of political intrigue, double-dealing and the ruthless realities of taking a nation to war.

Fifty years after the ravages of Hannibal, the Roman Republic is doing well, although taxes have risen and there doesn't seem to be quite as much money around for wine, villas and boys with good complexions.

There have been mutterings about Cato's rule. He needs to find a scapegoat and the state of Carthage fits the bill. Carthage has too much money. Carthage is stockpiling weapons. Carthage is a threat to Rome. Delenda est Cathago - Carthage must be destroyed - and Cato knows just the man for the job, Senator Gregor.

Practiced in the art of having just enough power to guarantee privilege without ever having so much that it brings responsibility, Gregor is about to encounter the sharp end of politics.

Wilkins, who is also playwright-mentor for the Traverse Theatre's Young Writers' Group and represented Scotland as a tutor playwright at the 2006 Interplay festival in Lichtenstein, reveals that he was attracted to this specific period of Ancient Rome's history because of its parallels with today. He explains: "That period has just the right amount of parallels with the present, but also, because it's a period about which not a lot is really known, it allows the writer a certain freedom to play around a bit more.

"And of course it is Rome, so there is a lot of inherent drama, the use of rhetoric, the togas and the wrestling. It's quite fun for a writer.

"What I wanted to avoid was making this an overtly political play with a message. Most people who I know that go to the theatre have fairly clear views on the Iraq situation anyway, so although the piece might cause them to reflect on the situation, I'm not beating a drum.

"The idea that the past can help us inform the present is not a new one, but there has to be an emotional drama to back it up to make it worth while going to the theatre."

First performed as a staged reading during the Traverse Cubed season last year, Carthage Must Be Destroyed reunites the writer with Campbell for the first time in three years.

He says: "The piece is really Gregor's story. Cato is the one who wants to invade Carthage in order to distract minds from domestic troubles - obviously there are contemporary parallels there, 25 years after the Falklands. But I was more interested in the people that allow that to happen. The politicians who just say yes in order to protect what they have. So, more than Cato, this is Gregor's journey."

Wilkins, 37, was still working as a drama teacher at Inverkeithing High School when he first collaborated with Campbell on The Nest, back in 2004.

Reflecting on the way his writing career has taken off, Wilkins, who was brought up in Edinburgh and, after time spent in Glasgow, Poznan and Madrid, returned to the city in 1998, recalls: "I wrote my first play, Childish Things, when I was living in Spain, just for something to do because I had no money.

"I sent it off to the Traverse and they picked it up and John Tiffany directed a public reading of it. So I wrote a second one, Cafeteria/Restuarant which was set in Madrid, and got a reading at the Tron in Glasgow, and then the Traverse commissioned The Nest."

Since quitting his teaching job, Wilkins has worked in various capacities, from writer to actor at Dundee Rep, City Moves and the Aldeburgh Festival, and is currently a playwright tutor at Glasgow University.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed, which he considers suitable for ages 16+, brings together Sean Campion as Gregor, Tony Guilfoyle as Cato, Paul-James Corrigan as David/the Youth and Damian Lynch as Marcus.

"It really is a fantastic cast," he says.

• Carthage Must Be Destroyed, Traverse 2, Cambridge Street, Sunday-May 19 (previews tonight and tomorrow), various times, 12 (previews 9), 0131-228 1404

ALSO PLAYING

Fergus Lamont

FOLLOWING a successful Scottish tour, Communicado's adaptation of Robin Jenkins' award-winning novel, Fergus Lamont, arrives at the Traverse on Wednesday, where it will run until next Saturday.

In a story rife with scathing Scots humour, Jenkins introduces us to Fergus, a man at odds with his own identity. Despite a childhood in the slums, he learns of his noble connections and is determined to join the aristocracy and claim his rightful place in Scottish society.

This journey of self- discovery takes Fergus to the trenches in World War I, an Edinburgh country home and a weather- beaten outpost in the Outer Hebrides before returning to his birthplace.

In this adaptation of Jenkins' searching exploration of the modern psyche, Communicado creates not just an unforgett-able character, but an image of Scotland and what it is to be Scots.

• Fergus Lamont, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, next Wednesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), 12, 0131-228 1404

 
 
 

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