As soon as I stepped into the Amos Room for 3BUG’s production of Jim Cartwright’s ‘Road’, I knew I was in for a treat. The audience were fully immersed in the production from the word go, with a live band playing 80’s hits whilst the actors danced in character. We weren’t in the Guild, we were on their Road.
Road is the first play written by Jim Cartwright, and was first produced in 1986. It explores the lives of people living in a deprived, working class area of Lancashire during Margaret Thatcher’s government. Set on a road on a busy night, the audience delve into the houses on the street and the characters’ lives. Battling high unemployment and poverty, the play is extremely effective in portraying the desperation of this time. Despite the production team’s stylistic choice of keeping the play firmly set in the 80’s, I couldn’t help but make parallels with today, and the same poverty that permeates certain subsets of British society now.
The character of Scullery takes the audience through the play’s action, interjecting at various moments. This was a standout performance by James Porter, who played the character with wit and sobriety, and utterly excellent characterisation throughout.
The set design was immaculate. Littered with real road signs (credit to whoever managed to source those!), the atmosphere of dirty, gritty Thatcher’s Britain was realised. I also particularly enjoyed the lighting choices; the play opened with Scullery shining lights onto the audience’s faces, at once making us part of, and voyeurs of, the onstage action.
3BUGS is a fringe theatre society, and often fringe theatre can create a divide between play and audience by being slightly too ‘avant garde’. However this was not the case here, every artistic choice was meaningful, and worked to highlight moments of dramatic action – the best being an emotional physical performance towards the end of the piece, in which all the characters were on stage chanting “somehow, somehow, I might escape.’ This truly highlighted the frustration of the moment – credit here to choreographer Vivi Bayliss.
There were times in which the action appeared to drag slightly, which created unfortunate lulls in a play filled with emotion and dramatic tensions. This may have been solved by cutting the script, although I appreciate the difficulty in this. However, there were definite emotional high points – one of note being the deaths of the characters Joey and Clare (played excellently by Peter Brennan and Gina Hunt) through voluntary starvation. As they were carried off by Scullery to an expressive, warbling rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ by vocalist Alice Flynn, the emotion in the room was almost oppressive.
Comic relief came from the character of Brenda, played expertly by Abbie Cooper. Her comic talent was obvious, and had the audience in stitches with her monologue, demonstrating an enviable ability for improvisation and comic timing.
Overall this was a very successful performance, and was one of the best Guild drama performances I have seen in my time at the University. Credit must go to Mark Fenton’s and Ruth Berry’s direction, and the high ability of the cast.
Credit to Nicola Ingles for the photography