Road by Jim Cartwright is set during a rowdy night out in a Northern town. Sounds about right.
It’s describes as “a powerful observation of the everyday lives of the working classes with resonance, jubilance and hope” so I think it’s fair to say it’ll be a little deeper than a play about a p**s up.
I managed to get hold of this great interview with Leeds Playhouse Associate Director Amy Leach about the production:
What first attracted you to Jim Cartwright’s Road?
For many Northerners who work in the theatre industry, Road is like a theatrical bible. A play many of us discovered as teenagers and that blew our young minds due to the anarchic, fluid theatricality of the piece and the joyous celebration of a poetic, brutal voice which is unashamedly Northern. Set in an unnamed Northern town it reminded us of where we had grown up. I studied Road for GCSE Drama and it has been one of my favourite plays ever since. I am thrilled to get the opportunity to stage a production of this seminal play.
Cartwright wrote this play in 1986 at a time of severe austerity measures under a Conservative government. Is it relevant now?
The poverty and sense of abandonment portrayed of this forgotten community at the edge of a Northern town hasn’t gone away. The details might have changed but the big picture hasn’t. So many communities still exist like the one in the play. And yet what I love about the play is that it isn’t just bleak. It’s also full of humour, determination and passion. The characters have almost nothing, but what they all share is great Northern spirit and I see it as a play that brilliantly celebrates this.
You’re collaborating with designer Hayley Grindle, who designed the Playhouse’s 2017 production of Romeo & Juliet. How will Road look and feel?
This is the 14th show Hayley and I will have worked on together. What I love about Hayley’s designs is that she creates brilliant, beautiful playgrounds for actors to inhabit and tell their story. We spent a lot of time looking at the photos of the great, late Tish Murtha who recorded working class lives in the North East, and at images of estates where the houses and buildings have been partially demolished and one can see the scars that remain on walls that were once interiors but are now exposed to the elements. The design for the show embraces this reference material. We wanted to create a space that honours the abandoned environment of these characters lives, but also gives them a grace and majesty.
Road is such a well-known production, what do you feel the Playhouse’s new Pop-Up theatre will bring to the show?
It’s so exciting to be creating a temporary theatre space whilst our normal theatres are closed for redevelopment. The temporary theatre is being created in our workshop where we normally construct and paint sets. It’s an industrial environment with a handmade aesthetic, and I think Road will work brilliantly in there. The play should interact with the audience – the actors will come out into the auditorium and we’ll have a disco onstage at the interval. It should be a fantastic, raucous night out and a great way for our audiences to see a part of the theatre they wouldn’t normally get access to.
We’ll also be creating live audio description throughout the run of Road which will be performed by members of the cast in character from an old BT phone box on stage. Audio description is a way for blind and visually impaired audiences to access theatre performances, and we’re delighted that this new creative exploration for the Playhouse means that these audiences can come along to any night of the run, rather than a one-off performance.
Road is the first production the Leeds Playhouse Ensemble will perform in, what’s next?
We’ll be working with an ensemble of Northern actors across the next year to present lots of different plays. It’s going to be brilliant to see the same group shape shift to become lots of different characters during their time with us. Next up for them is a brilliant play called Europe by David Greig before they get all festive and rehearse A Christmas Carol. Our ensemble company will be joined by other actors at other points in the year, including actors from Mind the Gap, a brilliant theatre company based in Bradford who work with artists with learning disabilities.
Don’t miss Road when it comes to Leeds Playhouse from 5th-29th September.