The Autobahn is the federal controlled-access highway system in Germany, and one which has no speed limit. Neil LaBute's 2003 play uses it as a metaphor for life, giving a spin on the 'life is a highway' philosophy which suggests we're all driving along at our own speed, on our own set tracks - destination unknown.
In its London premiere, Savio(u)r Theatre Company present a sensitive and fiercely well acted production, bringing this snapshot into American life to the confines of London's oldest pub theatre. It is a modest production that relies on the skill of the performers and sensitivity of the direction - nothing more is needed than the front of a car, matched with an overhead display of appropriate settings of American highway.
LaBute's writing is sharp, acrid and compelling. He manages to capture a distinct idiom for each character, establish it within a few lines and maintain it successfully through each small scene. However wild the characters may be, they speak like humans, and their language is always appropriate for their situation. LaBute doesn't push his characters too far, instead he keeps them balanced on a knife edge, meaning they remain believable throughout, but also maintain a successful level of unpredictability which fuels interest from one to the next. There is an effective circularity to the conversations which acts just like real life, and despite the short time spent with each pair, each one has you clamouring for the car door.
The range of seven vignettes by its very nature means that audiences will establish different connections with each one which is both a blessing and a curse of the piece as a whole. Personally I enjoyed the dialogues more than the monologues, which is not in any way a reflection on the talented cast. Some would criticise the structure of the piece for not allowing investment in each of the characters, but to me that is not what the play is about. We are presented with seven snapshots of different characters across America, each one giving a compelling and fully realised look at different people with different backgrounds from different walks of life. In each case there is no beginning, middle and end, we see but a brief moment in their journey on life's highway.
The acting is universally outstanding from all four performers, who each play a number of different roles throughout. Through simple costume changes they transform in front of the audience, complete with new accents, to present fully realised characters - each one as effective as the next. As an ensemble, no one pushes a single character too far; there is a clear sensitivity in each interpretation which adds to the success of the production. With colourful and 'kooky' characters there is always a risk of arriving overdone, but all four actors balance neatly on the edge. Zoe Swenson-Graham is compelling in each of her scenes, showing a wide range of characters from a neurotic teenager scared of being dumped to a vulnerable child on a journey to nowhere with a sinister older male. Henry Everett shows outstanding range and sharp characterisation as he handles the more difficult characters, especially in the 'Lolita' like 'Road Trip' scene, where he is suitably sinister.
This is an intelligent and consistent production, showcasing a range of fine acting in a truly character driven piece. Savio(u)r Theatre company is dedicated to presenting work by American playwrights in the UK, and this production showcases LaBute's work in its finest.