Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Theatre Review • ROAD • Swan Theatre, Worcester • tour • 2002

Welcome to the launch of Rogues & Vagabonds on WordPress.   I am gradually transferring  the articles published on my theatre site, regularly updated between 2002 and 2008, for anyone with a passion for Theatre.   The idea behind the site was to bring the theatrical past alive and cast a fresh eye over the contemporary scene, untrammelled by the restrictions often in place with ‘accepted’ media outlets.  Click here to read more about R&V.

Today I am republishing this review by Lynne Harvey for Pilot Theatre’s touring production of Jim Cartwright’s Road from November 2002.

Swan Theatre, Worcester

Swan Theatre, Worcester [Wikimedia]

Sitting in a half-filled theatre in Worcester with the black-coated worthies, it was hard to imagine how the audience around me could possibly comprehend, or engage in, the world that was being described in Jim Cartwright’s Road. But a play that leeches into the subconscious by story and word can climb and overcome any barrier.

Voted No 36 in the top 100 plays of the last century by The Royal National Theatre, Road can seem like an instant winner to anyone who takes it on. But this play is probably one of the easiest to make a hash of, for on the surface it reeks of stereotypical characters telling their tales of woe. It is a play that can be broken down and work-shopped ad infinitum since the writer has given us the stories and characters that teachers and workshop leaders can go to town on and, in the process, totally miss the point. It takes someone very canny indeed to take this on and bring out the deeper levels, the other meanings, the other strings to the stories except the bleeding obvious. Marcus Romer, director of Road and artistic director of Pilot TC has done just that.

Described as a multimedia production, Road comes at you and after you. It draws in those who wait in the shadows for theatre to jump out and grab them. It excites, plain and simple. With clever filming of the town they’re playing in and references to it in the narrative, it highlights the events as told could be happening in that town – and probably are. Video cameras are used, including filming of the audience as they stumble in looking for their seats, at one point three of the actors are arguing in the audience, climbing over legs and handbags. In the interval the actors are in among you like vicars, they won’t leave you alone—in the foyer, in the middle of a disco, coming out of the loo, leaning against tables, intended no doubt to make you feel part of ‘it’. All of this could so easily fall on its arse, look contrived, be embarrassing, but the trick, the skill, is that it doesn’t.

A few contemporary references have been changed for this production, which is the only thing I question. Knowing when it was written (1986), they can jar. To a younger audience – and we need the next generation into theatres like we need Play for Today to make a comeback – they won’t. But perhaps the original references would seem out-of-place in 2002/3. There is a discussion about this on the Pilot website (see above).

Set designer Dawn Allsop has created a set that is both claustrophobic and surreal, it is a moving roundel of the Road the stories are set in. After every story the actors take up the handles and move the roundel around and around until the next story is told, cleverly showing that the characters take their situation and their story with them, it’s who they are and all are part of each other. The acting is superb and it would be unfair to mention any above the other, for each has their moment.

The bite mark left by Road is often the scene where Try a Little Tenderness sung by Otis Redding is played, reflecting situation and despair for character and audience in one fell swoop. However, there are many bite marks left by this production, all of them beautifully painful.

Oft said, but please — don’t miss this one.

Lynne Harvey © 29-11-02

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