There is an assumption that Road by Jim Cartwright would feel outdated. Its plot is so geographically and temporally specific that a play about the North East’s experience of the Thatcherite years could have gone the way of Look Back in Anger and feel irrelevant to a modern audience. Under John Tiffany’s direction, Road feels terrifyingly present, and still as necessary after over thirty years since its debut.
“Life can’t just be this”.
But it just might be. What the audience is made painfully aware of is how little society has progressed. We are still a directionless youth hoping to find excitement at the end of a bottle or joint, without the comfort of memory to keep us going. Just like in the play, we hope that life can get better, but we have no proof that it can be. And what separates us from the generations before (and the generation before the youth of the 1980s) is that they retain memories of growing up with promise. They have experienced the ‘peace and love’ 60s and the rave culture of the 90s. Where Cartwright’s text flourishes now is in this distinction. And in this distinction, we are made horrifically aware that life has not become better; in fact, it may be getting worse.
Rather than houses, Chloe Lamford’s design guides us through spaces that are presented to us via a one-way mirrored box against a backdrop of bricks to give a dilapidated impression. Even the street sign has been broken in half to leave only the word ‘road’ (a beautifully clever touch). Characters that traverse the space appear like vague travellers, not knowing where they are going and not really caring as long as they can feel that buzz, that excitement that tells them their lives have purpose.
What effectively maps out this narrative are the casts surprisingly gestural performance, where words and phrases are complimented with physical action. Eddie’s (Mike Noble) monologue stands out as one such example. His physicality is so specific and clear, that you can ascertain what is being talked about without the spoken text. And this keeps Road‘s monologues alive and engaging. They contain an energy that makes both listening and watching equally as important. This is used with varying degrees of intensity throughout, depending on what each monologue requires from the performer.
Road makes for crucial viewing. And not just because it is blindingly relevant. It is also at points a stunning lesson in theatre craft. There are moments where the productions scenography is melded to well with the text that it almost feels embodied. There really isn’t anymore to be said. Grab yourself a ticket.
Director: John Tiffany
Writer: Jim Cartwright
Design: Chloe Lamford; Lee Curran (lighting); Gareth Fry (sound)
Cast: Michelle Fairley; Mark Hadfield; Faye Marsay; Mike Noble; Dan Parr; Lemn Sissay; June Watson; Liz White; Shane Zaza
Road plays the Royal Court Theatre until 9 September 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.