Road at the Royal Court Theatre
“Fucking long life, int’it.” So concur the residents of playwright Jim Cartwright’s eponymous road. A study in nihilism, each of its characters is focused on numbing their jarring reality with alcohol, violence and/or promiscuity. John Tiffany takes Cartwright’s idiosyncratic 1986 script and makes its dark humour shine. Made up of a series of vignettes, it introduces several groups of characters struggling to anaesthetise themselves against the poverty and stagnancy of their small town. There’s the man who drowns out his tide of sadness by watching Bullseye with the volume turned right up. “I get these feelings inside and they’re so sad I can hardly stand it.” The randy party girl who realises her drunken soldier conquest is merely a boy. The skinhead who lives for violence. The girls on a drunken pub crawl, hunting for a shag. The boy whose existential crisis prevents him from leaving his bed.
The lyrical dialogue is shot through with Stanley Unwin-esque nonsense (“Kenny the homo: we used to drink gin off each other’s fingers at the bar. Silly nincompoop”) and winsome couplets (“Be full of good cheer. If not, bad beer”). Chloe Lamford’s set fuses exposed brick and neon tubing, but the main event is a glass box that fills much of the stage and rises, descends and lights up to reveal characters inside. This allows scenes to change in a flash like television jump cuts, while positioning the people within like objects on display or trapped animals.
Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) puts on a belter of a performance in multiple roles, while Royal Court veteran June Watson charms as the sweetly bonkers Molly. Without a definite narrative arch it’s difficult to invest in the wretched characters. However, the second half settles down a little more, giving us time to get to know and engage more satisfactorily with some of them. And with this change of pace comes hope: in the form of the transcendental power of music. Scenes are punctuated by sounds of pure escapism: the soulfulness of Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness; the soaring drama of the Swan Lake theme; then finally a song from the future: Elbow’s Lippy Kids. A forward gaze.
At a time when food banks are on the rise and a bloody difficult woman lurks at Number 10, the world of Road is merely a shoulder-padded version of our own current reality.
Photo: Photo: Johan Persson
Road is at the Royal Court Theatre from 21st July until 9th September 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the cast talk about Road‘s importance here: