Road

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
1/9
© Johan PerssonFaye Marsay (Louise/Clare) and Liz White (Carol/Valerie)
 (© Johan Persson)
2/9
© Johan PerssonFaye Marsay (Louise/Clare) and Shane Zaza (Joey)
 (© Johan Persson)
3/9
© Johan PerssonLiz White (Carol/Valerie) and Michelle Fairley (Helen/Marion/Brenda)
 (© Johan Persson)
4/9
© Johan PerssonLiz White (Carol/Valerie) and Faye Marsay (Louise/Clare)
 (© Johan Persson)
5/9
© Johan PerssonLiz White (Carol/Valerie), Lemn Sissay (Scullery) and Faye Marsay (Louise/Clare)
 (© Johan Persson)
6/9
© Johan PerssonMike Noble (Eddie/Skin-Lad)
 (© Johan Persson)
7/9
© Johan PerssonFaye Marsay (Louise/Clare) and Shane Zaza (Joey)
 (© Johan Persson)
8/9
© Johan PerssonFaye Marsay (Louise/Clare), Liz White (Carol/Valerie) and Lemn Sissay (Scullery)
 (© Johan Persson)
9/9
© Johan PerssonMike Noble (Eddie/Skin-Lad) and Faye Marsay (Louise/Clare)

'Harry Potter' director John Tiffany gives Jim Cartwright's working class classic a tough revival

New writing mecca the Royal Court hardly ever revives old plays - so it's always worth paying attention when it does.

Jim Cartwright's 'Road' is one of the touchstone plays of the '80s, a sprawling, vibrant, funny, tragic tribute to working class (night)life that sprang out of the then 27-year-old's imagination fully-formed, one of the all time great Court debuts.

Whether because of its success, its northernness, or the iconic promenade staging of the original production, it's not been revived in London since (though it's a frequentish sight in northern theatres).

Fitting it into his schedule in between 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and the National Theatre's ‘Pinocchio' musical, super-director John Tiffany shows that success hasn't sent him soft. He wades in with a tough, sinewy production, full of the rude vitality, rough poetry and devastating loneliness of Cartwright's wild writing.

The titular thoroughfare runs through the centre of a non-specific northern town. The dialogue is Lancastrian, but anybody who grew up outside of Knightsbridge should see something familiar in this sort of place, deprived and damaged but gripped by a frenzy of life on a Saturday night, not all of it savoury.

Our guide is Scullery, played with a fine mix of cheeky chappie charm and opportunistic menace by the poet and performer Lemn Sissay.

At first it's as you might expect: lairy young folk out on the piss, puffed up with Northern swagger and the indestructibility of being young on a Saturday night.

But the young Cartwright's great gift was to articulate not just the blowsy, boozy banter, but the damage that it masked in Thatcher's north. So we see the dark side of the drink - best exemplified by the tragicomic scene in which an older woman tried to screw a paralytic squaddie, but ends up weeping for him. But there's also the lonely old people, left alone and apart from the jollity, shut out from the world. And there's the young people - notably Shane Zaza's Joey - who have lapsed into depression, unable to drink to forget their situation, ashamed of their lack of prospects.

I guess in a sense Tiffany's main task was to avoid making ‘Road’ either feel like a period piece or come off as a twinkly-eyed ‘celebration’ that turns these people into zoo exhibits. He succeeds via a stripped back, gutpunch, end-on production that's shrouded in semi-gloom, its only flourishes the bursts of Manchester pop songs that mark the scene changes and a huge perspex box that rises from Chloe Lamford’s set, eerily framing key scenes. This 'Road' is street-smart, a tale of resilience against impossible odds.

Is it a play for the age of austerity? Undoubtedly so, and if there's obviously no talk of Brexit or zero hour contracts, it feels entirely implicit. This could be your hometown, today. Perhaps it's not been revived in London for so long because it has a different context here to Manchester or Bolton. But for me the sentiment feels broader, a reminder of the roads like this in my own Midlands hometown, and that it’s our loss if we forget them. 'Road' runs through all of us, I hope.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

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tastemaker

This play takes you on a trip down a non-specific street up north in the 80s. And it's pretty bleak. I enjoyed the small snapshots into different lives. The soundtrack was also great, and the use of a perspex box on stage was very clever. Overall it feels relevant to today, and gets my recommendation.

tastemaker

With productions of Road, it is important to focus on what lies behind the humour.

As a London-based Mancunian, born in the 80s, I get a bit touchy about London productions that take work from the North and then pitch them at 'comedy Northern' (the NT's production of A Taste of Honey a few years back made me about as angry as I've ever been at a piece of theatre). Fortunately, this particular iteration of Road finds its mark.

The humour of show is raw and balanced against the awful human pain of living in a place with its better days behind it. But then there's the hope of the ending, which shows a group of young people refusing to give into their situation, looking for a brighter future. Its uplifting in a way that is horribly relevant to 2017.

The performances are great across the whole ensemble, the set design is rugged and functional, and the use of music adds a level of bitter-sweet nostalgia to the proceedings. I unreservedly recommend it.

tastemaker

Guiding us down an anonymous road in 80s northern England, Lemn Sissay's narrator introduces us to a medley of characters and the lives they lead. Whilst these interludes are frequently comical, they are often punctuated by intense sombreness as they reflect on what it is to live through very hard times. 


There is so much to praise in this revival: gripping monologues, a cleverly-designed set, and a generally excellent cast whose dialogue feels genuine in its humour and its sobriety. Particular mention goes to Michelle Fairley, Lemn Sissay, Liz White and Mike Noble. 


But despite this, something's missing; either a direction or a sense of rhythm, meaning that the strong constituent elements are let down. And this was only exacerbated by the ending, which seemed cheesy and contrary to the rest of the play and left me a little disappointed.

tastemaker

Maybe I missed something but I was totally confused and feel like I missed the narrative. I love Jim Cartwright other plays - Little Voice and Raz. But these one had very little narrative and I felt as though I had missed an explanation into the background of the characters.

I ended up leaving after the first half so maybe that's why it didn't make much sense.

But I was very disappointed.

The set was amazing though and very cleverly staged with real street lights and a section of the set which came up out of the floor.

Tastemaker

Jim Cartwright's Road is one of my favourite plays. Exposing the characters that live on a depressed, nondescript road, in a northern town that seeing it's share of economic troubles, it isn't hard to relate the play to modern Britain. It is a deeply moving play that hides it's sorrows with laughter and it happiness with depression. Every character is big and brash, every new house, another black hole to fall in.


John Tiffany's Royal Court production is not one of the best I've seen. The whole show seemed to be running on humour. Whilst Road has moments of comedy, I perceive it as a dark, depressing set of character studies. The audience didn't help either and took every opportunity to laugh, even when the underlying tone was alienation or suicide. 


The set was overly ambitious and under performing; a glass box, central on the stage, was used to depict some characters in their homes but not others. It had no context during Skinlad's monologue and, although impressive from a stage design point of view, gave the show a modern feel. For a play set in the 80's, where everyone is dressed in full 80's gear, it didn't really make sense. The staging of Joey's story was brilliant though and the utilisation of the bed worked brilliantly. 


Some of the performances are very strong but I'd have to single out Michelle Fairley if pushed. She gave excellent portrayals of her gaggle of misfit characters. 


It's a wonderfully written play but this run had so much more potential. Go and see it if you never have.