The concept of Road is a simple one: a glimpse into the sad lives of the people who live on a run-down, rough street in the 80s. To dull and numb the pointlessness of their own existence, the residents drink themselves into oblivion and enjoy debauchery and rebellion to ‘feel’ something, railing against the system with every swig of rum.
What might have been intended to be a powerful political piece by Jim Cartwright back in the day translates to a self-indulgent rant against the system in this production. The endless stream of unlikeable louts descend on the stage one after the other – by the end I can’t tell if the characters are the same ones we’ve seen before or simply regurgitated versions of them. Almost every character in the show is one you’d avoid sitting anywhere near on the train home – so why you’d want to spend two hours of your life listening to their monologues, I’ll never know.
The only slightly funny moment comes in form of a promiscuous woman taking a younger, catatonically drunk, man home. She tries and fails to seduce him with much hilarity but, when he falls unconscious, bursts into tears herself as she realises ‘what she’s done’. What could have been nothing more than a funny interlude becomes another overblown, unnecessary drama.
To be honest, I find the whole show a little flawed – can’t residents of the road at least attempt to break free from “the system” and make their dreams of a more enriching life a reality? Perhaps I’m being naive, but it seems the characters in the play want to achieve nothing more than placing blame. At one point, one of the girls even manages to make her sizeable bosom the subject of her existential crisis.
It’s absolutely safe to say I just don’t get the play’s concept. From start to finish, the endless stream of overacted monologues set the scene for a very dark, plotless play.
The Playhouse ensemble cast are mostly actors I have seen before, and admire. However in this play there is little room for empathy, leaving them with nothing but unlikeable shells of characters left to try and inject some life into. Dan Parr and Tessa Par have an undoubted chemistry, and their scenes together have some touching moments – but unfortunately even those are muddied by unnecessary shouting and wild-eyes glares out into the audience as if they’re looking to us to tell them the answers. Don’t look at me, love, I don’t have a clue what’s going on.
I don’t know whether it says more about me than the play, but the audience only seems to feel engaged at the very start of the second act when the room is transformed into a nightclub. An energetic all-cast performance of Superman gets us all a little more cheery, before yet again we sink into despair for another hour.
The integration of audio description should be applauded. Director Amy Leach and Audio Description Directors Ben Wilson and Vicky Ackroyd create an inclusive yet non-intrusive way of bringing audio description into the performance via a phone box placed prominently (but not too much so) at the side of the stage. Creating theatre where every performance can be enjoyed by everyone is a beautiful thing and I really do think the production has lead the way in this particular regard.
I feel Road has all the ingredients to make a fantastic GCSE study piece, but for a night out to the theatre I’m more looking forward to some of the upcoming shows at Leeds Playhouse. With A Christmasl Carol and Kes on the horizon, it looks set to be a great season. Perhaps this just wasn’t the right play for me.
See what’s coming up at Leeds Playhouse or give Road a try until 29th September.
Photography credited to Kirsten McTernan