ROAD

Fri 7th – Sat 15th November 2014

reviews

Ben Hickey

at 23:32 on 17th Nov 2014

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Jim Cartwright’s play ‘Road’, a bold and vivacious piece of promenade theatre, skewers life on a typical Northern street during the twilight years of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. Brought to life by director Gemma Fairlie and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, tonight’s performance consists of a brave yet thoughtful blend of comedy and tragedy charting an ordinary night .

Cartwright’s vision does not conform to the doleful and dreary depictions of the Northern 80s advanced by other writers, and the production stays faithful to the vigour and energy of his text. The audience is guided up and down the ‘road’ by the local slacker Scullery, deftly played by Harry Egan, and as the audience looks past the facades of houses to the lives within, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not an exercise in mundane realism. Each of the vast array of characters are either uproariously funny or indelibly tragic, and sometimes a powerful blend of the two. There is the caustic Carol (Rosie Nicholls), whose antagonistic relationship with her mother often devolves into scintillating rows. Skinlad (Tim Innes), known to all of the road’s residents as a ‘fucking nutter’ oscillates between unbridled rage and deep ruminations on the Dharma, while the mentally fragile Molly (Pippa Moss) uses milk from the cat’s saucer for her tea. It is a show which revels in its own strangeness but underneath the raucous comic energy one cannot help but feel a sense of disquiet bubbling underneath the surface. In particular, the ubiquitous presence of alcohol throughout (the scenes are sometimes literally drenched in it) often has hilarious results but these comedic touches are artfully balanced against the idea that the characters’ drunkenness largely serves to numb the pain that stems from living on the poverty line, day after day.

The challenge throughout is to weave each separate narrative into one coherent and meaningful picture and there are some strands, often those which fall a little flat; the long scene involving a protesting hunger striker (Sam Woolf) and his girlfriend Clare (Shala Nyx) is played slightly heavy-handedly (although its intensity cannot be faulted). The sheer number of monologues from individual characters within the performance is also problematic at times; it is hard to be equally emotionally invested in them all.

As the events of the play begin to spill out of the houses and on to the central space of the road itself, however, the performance becomes a more visceral creature, culminating in a brilliant scene between two lads out on the pull (Joel Macey and Ryan McKen) and two girls who they meet on a night out (Nicholls and Nyx). A scene which begins with typical levels of caginess transforms into an enthralling piece of catharsis about the crippling futility of these young people’s existence and the concurrent necessity to keep fighting in the face of such impossible odds (at one point in this scene I look across and the room and see actor Paul McGann, of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Withnail and I’ fame, in the audience, actually crying). It is a moving scene in which the actors walk the line between despair and triumph brilliantly.

The cast and crew are able to create an captivating portrait of a particular moment in history, while its prevailing sense of doubt and uncertainty in turn suggest that the repercussions of that moment may continue to be felt in the present day. Riotous and deeply reflective in equal measure, this performance of ‘Road’ manages to uncover the grimy hope which lies underneath the hardships of poverty and mundanity.

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