Review of Road at the Royal Court

Road at the Royal Court
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Saturday, 29 July, 2017
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Thirty years after it premiered at the Royal Court, and about thirty years after it first landed in director John Tiffany's lap, Jim Cartwright's play Road paints a portrait of northern England at a time well before the term 'Powerhouse' was coined.

We're in the heart of Thatcher's Britain. Unemployment at record levels, but a time when someone could hold two or three jobs is a not-so distant memory. Fathers, rather than grandfathers, remember the war.

Jim Cartwright's play takes you on a booze-fuelled evening tour round the houses of a nameless Northern street. Lemn Sissay, as the peppy tour guide Scullery, introduces you to each of the characters on the street so they can tell you their story. There's an alcoholic mother and her larger-than-life daughter, always at each other's throats. A vicious skinhead who finds solace in religion. The drunk father bringing women home while his daughter sleeps upstairs. Behind each door lies a segment of this patchwork street.

Occasionally, their stories are told from a box that rises from below the stage. Every sound is amplified in this echo chamber as they unload their tales about why they are who they are today. Lee Curran's lighting brings out the best in Chloe Lamford's design, which also features a red brick backdrop and trio of streetlights on either side of the stage.

Tiffany's worked with movement director Jonathan Watkins to add some real delicate theatricality in the second half. A fine example being Sissay's waltz around the stage with a shopping trolley. These moments stick out, in particular the final scene: an ensemble dance piece that conveys their longing to be rid of their dead-end lives.

Set to a soundtrack of '80s tunes, the moving closing piece, set to the music of Manchester band Elbow, is a real special, touching moment.

I particularly enjoyed Mike Noble's passionate performance as Skin-Lad, the hooligan who finds Buddhism. Michelle Fairley, too, excels in a particular comic, but rather frank and uncomfortable scene that highlights how far our attitudes and views on sex and consent have really come.

This play is a little ball of anger from a snapshot in time. The neighbours are angry at the establishment, angry at each other, angry at themselves. But Road is also a love letter to this unique little part of the world.  

Road is at the Royal Court until 9th September.

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