Road runs at the Royal Court Theatre until 9 September 2017, book tickets here: Road Tickets
Star rating: ***
As a text and synopsis, I was familiar with this play however I had not previously seen a production on stage. Jim Cartwright has written and John Tiffany has directed a piece which may be set in the eighties (and was first produced in 1986) but the setting reflects present day and the poverty-stricken times under a Conservative government. Perhaps the choice of cast is not so reflective of what a street in Lancaster would resemble nowadays – otherwise all the elements are there demonstrating how little has changed from the eighties to the noughties.
Cartwright’s script is atmospheric in itself, the personalities of each character who all represent a different failing of society are there in the text. His clever blend of mocking humour and dark mirth combine to create a play which requires thought on the part of the audience. Although perception may vary and the piece is open to interpretation – Tiffany offers a predictable yet capacious take on it.
The set speaks volumes by itself, dour, drab and minimal – the perfect backdrop for a pitiful insight into a drunken night out and about and indeed, indoors on a northern Road. The use of the glass enclosure which appeared ‘as if by magic’ from beneath the stage and provided the ideal view into many homes that the audience were invited into. I took the ‘people who live in glass houses’ proverb from that choice of gimmick. Which, given the context, is apt and offers a transparent deeper meaning.
It’s narrated by Scullery (Lemn Sissay), he lords it about with his bottle of Rum, keeping an eye on the goings on. On the whole, he seems to mope about interfering and bantering with the other residents. I found his voice to be almost a little too gruff at times and I wondered about the casting choice. I was particularly impressed with June Watson as Molly, Watson gave a beautiful performance, showing Dementia to be a lonely, isolating condition yet providing moments that were easy to giggle at. It’s fair to say that the audience giggled with her as opposed to at her. Liz White and Michelle Fairley also provided a fine double act as mother and daughter. Mike Noble was particularly notable, all three of the roles that he performed were considerately and intelligently portrayed. I feel that the areas in which the piece failed to resonate and gel with me personally were where some cast members played multiple roles and their performances were not necessarily consistent.
The production left me with questions, which I had wholly expected, I always interpret Cartwright’s work on varying levels. However there were certain scenes that required too much thought on my part, and from that point of view, I feel there was something lacking which prevented me from engaging as well as I might have.
If you know the play and you’ve seen an incarnation of it before, I recommend you go and see for yourself. If you don’t know the play and you’ve not happened upon Cartwright’s work before, it might provide a good introduction. However, an open mind is certainly required for this one, take away from it what you will!
Photo Credits: Johan Persson