STAGE REVIEW: Road @ Northern Stage, Newcastle (14.10.21) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Road set at Northern Stage – design by Amelia Jane Hankin

Road was a play for the Thatcher era: mass unemployment, austerity, hopelessness. Road, unfortunately, is also a play for now. Set in 1986 and transported from the original Lancashire setting to the North East, the plot feels familiar and grounded, showcasing that the Northern experience is a universal one; for many people, this experience hasn’t changed yet or since. Jim Cartwright’s epic still rings true today.

The play tackles the struggles of the working-class during one of the worst spells of mass-unemployment in British history, granting the audience an insight into the mindsets, lives and hopes of the characters, who we meet as they prepare for a Friday night down their local.

Set over the course of one evening, the audience is transported to Road through the eyes of Scullery, a seemingly homeless man who observes and intervenes in the lives of the other inhabitants as they pass him journeying to and from the pub. He’s an insightful drunk who relies on alcohol to bring him closer to his neighbours, chatting to them about their lives and following their movements beyond the street into their run-down homes. Hanging from lampposts and craning his neck from the side of the stage, Scullery awards us insight as the ultimate voyeur; the audience is reflected in him, only we are awarded further degrees of separation in our comfy seats, perhaps only glimpsing, whilst Scullery lives it.

Road is as funny as it is tragic. Each vignette is doused in humour before the reality of the characters’ hopeless unemployment takes over once the alcohol has worn off.

The stage and set are beautiful, designed by Amelia Jane Hankin, and is set across two levels, fragmented into different living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and toilets. Notably, the characters speak mostly in monologues directed to the audience, isolated from the rest of the road. While one character speaks from the privacy of their own home and mind, other characters in their respective homes, move slowly, in dimmed light and a dream-like way, contributing to the mosaic of individuals and lives that make up Road and their collective tragedy.

Personal and poetic, the script is a delight and is intensified by the actors who lend humour and light to each role. Most play multiple characters, and yet such variation and introspection fill each of them as they descend into madness, depression or starvation. In particular, Rosie Stancliffe and Ryan Nolan stand out in their supporting roles, characterising each with a mania that is both heart-rending and hilarious.

Overall, Road is a successful and emotive Northern Stage debut for new Artistic Director, Natalie Ibu. My only advice: stay around for the interval if you like a boogie.

Road is at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 30th October

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