King’s Players hit the ground running with new production ‘Road’

Thought-provoking, powerful, and incredibly well directed – ‘Road’ is an impressive piece of student drama

There are not many shows which leave you both impressed and saddened by the futile nature of 1980’s England. The themes of the play remain politically relevant today, making it even more moving – the divide between rich and poor is a socio-economic problem that many are still subjected to. It thus gives Road a sense of heightened unhappy nostalgia, whilst being a poignant foreshadowing of the future.

Camille Hainsworth-Staples, the director of the production, assembled a stellar cast whose emotions are powerfully conveyed throughout the production. Being set in working-class Lancashire, it was no easy job to maintain a convincing accent all the way through, but the cast had quite evidently done their research.

The play is all set on one struggling street, which remains untitled other than simply “road”, and links together the lives of all its residents through deep and sometimes uncomfortable monologues. The interaction that the characters try to impose on the audience becomes apparent straight from the word go.

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Upon walking into the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, the cast began their performance; screaming, shouting, and a lot of desperate begging for lighters and cigarettes – presumably this serves to both introduce the audience to the personalities of some of the characters, as well as break the ice while the seats are filled. I have never known a play that familiarises its characters with the audience so precisely.

The set must be highly commended for being authentic and exciting – featuring a bed, sofa, armchair, trolley, coffee table, and brick wall background, the production team certainly made the most of their budget. The use of lighting and sound effects also added to the reality of the play – the tech rehearsal was clearly a success because everything ran exceptionally smoothly on the night.

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A lot of the dialogue and exchanges are just pure shouting (often swearing), simply because of the sensitive nature of the characters. These Northerners are facing a truly depressive way of life, and know no other way but to shout and drink alcohol to overcome this. In some ways, it felt like the play was a whole two hours of pure loudness – the speech, the music, the props, and the rather unnecessary foot stomping.

But under the surface, there were poignant messages in each and every monologue, even if they were at times hard to infer. I was hoping that some of the themes in act one would link together more conclusively in the second act, however, was left slightly confused and there were a few loose ends. But I feel this is more down to the play itself, and not the King’s Players production of it.

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If you’ve got a bad memory, which, let’s face it, many of us do, then this would not have been a good play for you to try to perform in. Some of the character’s monologues were incredibly long – there was a lot for one single person to remember. We are drawn into this entrapment of the Road these characters are stuck on, and the convincing acting at times makes you forget you’re actually watching a play.

Some of the deeper messages could have been given some more attention, like the denouncement of faith in the line, “Fucking hell, who’s spoiling life, me, us, them or God?”, but there were still a lot of serious themes, even suicide, that were delicately addressed. But the production team definitely made the most of the space available. If anything, repeatedly straining my neck to look up at the cast on the balcony was a bit of a pain, but the quality of the action that unfolded made up for it.

There are a handful of scenes which also provoked positive and genuine laughter from the audience, as well as being fun to be involved in – the karaoke scene was executed exceptionally well, and even resulted in clapping and singing along from a slightly confused audience. Not to mention the ironically non-subtle switch between husband and wife purely by putting a shower cap on and off. Nonetheless, it is clear that the performance was an enjoyable one for all.

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Ultimately, Road gives us an insight into the lives of people from a deprived area of Northern England during a difficult time of unemployment and poverty. The creative set and talented cast, as well as an evidently effective rehearsal schedule, overall makes this production a credit to both the director and The King’s Players.

King's College London