There is much talent in our Royal Welsh and you don’t need to look far to see a large ensemble of actors, each with their own distinctive voice in Road. Jim Cartwright’s play is an assault that wont be forgotten in a hurry.
We have a mass collection of media concerning trips back to 1980s Britain. Though this play does more than a check list of Thatcher quotes, bitter working class people and a blazing soundtrack of the time, it hits the bone hard. The kick to the show is the brilliant writing, which at times has a poetic beauty that falls from the characters’ mouths. Although we know this period of current history very well, here are surprising insights from these figures who haunt the road of a town up north in England.
Dora Furnival’s set is very busy and showy, though the efforts made in its creation are impressive. The audience being pinned on the stage of the Richard Burton Theatre made for a blazingly intimate experience, at times we are herded around like cattle. The swiftness of moving each tableaux around the stage has been formulated in a practical and efficient style. Though the static lounge set is rarely used as the movability of the rest of the staging took our attention away from this. Sam Jones as director, has been able to focus in intricate detail on these fleeting moments in and around the road, as characters whirl around us in head racing bouts of momentum.
The crowning glory here are the 19 actors (and one giddy dog) that make the whole piece shine. Granted, some of these characters are cookie cutter stereotypes of the period and setting. Heider Ali appears to play more roles than anyone else: a stuffed shirt of a professor, a wide eyed brother etc. Lucy Reynolds is both Carol and Helen, bringing wit and some barbed remarks to the table. Alex Leak is imposing a Eddie the bouncer, effective in mannerisms and wooing the ladies.
Ed Piercy is Brink and Joey, also brimming some great facial expressions and a tension to one of the larger, final scenes of the play. Paul Brown is Scullery, an apparent vagrant who lives in booze, sex and the lives of others. He is our narrator, though his conclusion is brief and flippant, unlike his other declarations to us as an audience. It’s a brief bit of diversity here with this role and he was such a strong part, he could have loitered around more.
Shifting through the extensive array of scenes, two stand out from the others. One is of the man who has locked himself up in his bedroom on a sort hunger strike with no real reason why. His partner returns, cannot understand why he is doing this, she dies, then he dies. It’s a real sobering way to end the first part. Some telling words from his poor soul of a man are compelling and make for an emotive watch, as his partner also tries to save him from the brink. The other scene is the longest (I believe) in the whole show: the bodyguards bring back two girls. The section with the vinyl player and each character drinking a whole bottle of wine each is something which has to be seen. It moves us, in perhaps the most amazing moment in the entire work.
Road continues at the RWCM&D until December 8.
This review has been kindly supported by the Wales Critics Fund. It will be dearly missed.
Photo Credit: Simon Gough