ISOBEL COCKERELL is impressed by this production from the new batch of freshers.
11pm initially felt too late to go and see Jim Cartwright’s ‘Road’.
The jerky scene changes and episodic, stop-and-start nature of the beginning of the play was not ideal at the end of a long day. The atmosphere among the audience for the first twenty minutes was somewhat disoriented.
The sporadic and, at times, overindulgent choreography broke up the initial scenes and did not allow the play to advance particularly well at the beginning. But after an initial shaky start – the sound engineer seemed to be nodding off too – the play narrowed, aptly guided by the ubiquitous Scullery (Jonah Hauer King), into a stark and visceral portrayal of 1980s Northern England.
The play is a slice-of-life, state-of-the-nation drama that takes place on a working class Lancashire street and follows the lives of its various inhabitants, loiterers, waifs and strays.
The stories are pretty bleak: a confused, ghost-like old woman living alone, surrounded by her demons (portrayed stunningly by Ellen McGrath); a couple (Joe Pitts and Caroline Heath-Taylor) who go on hunger strike just to see what happens, to find an escape, to find something, anything.
We followed them as they lurched between madness and lucidity in their stew of bedclothes, and it was at this point that the play gripped and pulled us into the grim desperation of what it was to barely survive in an unforgiving urban landscape.
Escape was an underlying theme of the play – perhaps the the most spectacular, original and immersive scene involved simply watching four characters sit and listen to Otis Redding’s ‘Try a little Tenderness’ as they nodded their heads and downed bottle after bottle of booze. Slowly, gradually, the play lulled you out of your bewilderment and into a grim catharsis.
Relief came from a number of hilarious episodes. Harrie Gooch, who played Helen, a lass on the pull, was utterly brilliant and had the audience in fits as she drunkenly tried to seduce her practically comatose fella after a late night chip run. It was genius. Towards the end, Martha Murphy stole the show as Carol, a bolshy, mouthy, leather-jacket-wearing girl about town.
The producers have fiddled around with the original play and its characters, but it has to be said their names weren’t particularly relevant – its their stories that make the lasting impression. Each actor played up to five roles, which wasn’t particularly easy to follow.
By the end, however, it was an effective device: the portrayal was of a common struggle, and so although the characters shifted and merged into one another, it no longer mattered. The common narrative overtook the individual, and by the end the characters and the furniture were all thrown together in a defeated heap on the floor.
It was a clever, shocking, agonized piece. This fresher’s play was an impressive debut into Cambridge drama.
While some production aspects needed refining and condensing, it was the astonishing acting that ultimately triumphed.