Review: Road at the Drama Barn

The audience is taken on a promenade along the road by the drunken, Dickensian ‘Scullery’, meeting fellow drunks, bored teenagers, reformed skinheads and redundant academics

Jim Cartwright’s Road explores various stories of desperate individuals living on a deprived road in Thatcher’s Britain. The audience is taken on a promenade along the road by the drunken, Dickensian ‘Scullery’, meeting fellow drunks, bored teenagers, reformed skinheads and redundant academics. The play, first shown in 1986 – towards the end of Thatcher’s premiership – was considered extremely effective in portraying the bleakness of working class people’s lives at the time due to unemployment and poverty, as well as discussing other issues such as the North/South divide, depression and teenage angst.

For a play that relies so heavily on the skills of the cast – with each character performing intensely emotional monologues – the acting did not disappoint. Jamie Bowen’s Scullery was funny and believable, convincingly playing the annoying drunk that shouts at you in the street and you can’t help but listen. Andrew Bewley’s skinhead-turned-buddhist was a particularly strong performance also, even if the content seemed a little unusual for the late 80s. Other cast members played drunken ladettes convincingly and at no point did anyone’s Lancashire accent die, which is a feat in itself.

The most moving and memorable performance, however, was Thomas Ryalls’ Joey. Joey is in some ways the voice of all the characters, ‘vomiting’ out his disillusionment with life and despairing lack of hope for anything better. Joey’s defeatist attitude plunges him into depression, ‘a black rose in his heart’, that leads him to starve himself in an attempt to expand his mind and understand. He and his girlfriend both die of starvation in a chilling expression of wasted human life.

If the point of the play was to make the audience feel as disillusioned as the characters involved, it definitely succeeded

The cast’s performances were enthralling, and the direction and production well done, but the main fault of the play was the script. At 2 hours and 45 mins, the play was much too long for a piece that had very little plot. As much as this is a contentious point, watching nearly three hours of quasi-Alan Bennett monologues is tiring for anyone. Even though they were well-written and acted, I left feeling unsatisfied and depressed. If the point of the play was to make the audience feel as disillusioned as the characters involved, it definitely succeeded, but I did not feel angry and impassioned to change the way a political play usually makes you feel.

The Drama Barn’s production of Road was therefore impressive, moving, and at times humorous, but as an evening of theatre the only disappointment was the slightly exhausting script.

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