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A CurtainUp London Review
"Why's the world so tough? It's like walking through meat in high heels."— Louise
Mike Noble as Eddie and Michelle Fairley as Helen (Photo: Johan Persson)
I wasn't sure that I would enjoy Road being shown thirty years after the Thatcher era and symbolic of the contrast between the then affluence of the South East of England and the Yuppies and the unemployment of the North West. I remember those plays on at the Royal Court in the 1990s set in a Sheffield council flat where she was pregnant and he was unemployed and the future was bleak. I never understood what the residents of Chelsea saw in plays about despondency, despair and the economic downturn. What they could possibly relate to?

And so I came to Road now with the National Theatre of Scotland's John Tiffany in the director's chair. Tiffany was the director of the truly great Black Watch twenty years ago and recently has scooped every directorial award there is with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

It is a travelogue down a road somewhere in a town in the North West, where factories are closing and unemployment is the norm. Lemm Sissay (Scullery) acts as our guide for the night and takes us into houses along this anonymous road. Judy Garland sings "Over the Rainbow".

Jim Cartwright is best known as the author of Little Voice and I wish I had a text (Bloomsbury are late publishing it) to fully appreciate the poetry and imagery of his writing some of which was lost for me in the broad Lancashire accents.

Chloe Lamford's red brick set is of bricked up windows and arches, tall uniform lampposts, but a glass box rises from the stage floor to give a higher playing area with ladder but also to allow different rooms in the houses to show below. A design mention too for the realistic 1980s costumes and big hair.

In one of the first houses we visit, Louise (Faye Marsay) is getting ready to go out for the night, adjusting her shoulder pads and her makeup, while her brother Joey (Shane Zaza) repairs his motor bike in the same room and threatens her perfect makeup with motor bike grease. She calls for Carol (Liz White) who is arguing with her mother Brenda (Michelle Fairley) who looks perilously thin in jeans and an oversized tee shirt and is asking her daughter for money. We have to presume for drink or drugs. There are sad characters like Molly (June Watson) now in old age who tells us what her life used to be like in reminiscences and Jerry (Mark Hadfield), living alone but ironing his clothes and keeping up appearances in a blazer and flannels show of respectability and poignancy. Two girls of easy virtue, slappers or scrubbers, fall about with Scullery to rob him of his bottle of rum. Joey in a vertical bed tells us about the unemployment situation, "no job, no hope" he says. Valerie (LIz White) describes her desperate marriage to an unemployed man whom she feels trapped by but whom she also feels sorry for.

The play went up a notch for me when Helen (an unrecognisable Michelle Fairley) dolled up to the nines, big hair, short skirt, brings home a squaddie Eddie (Mike Noble) who is so drunk he is almost unconscious. The army is one employment possibility in that area. In a hilarious scene she tries to arouse him sexually, with a very funny commentary implying he is a serial seducer, an expert with women, attempting to talk him up! It ends badly with him throwing up before she wipes him down with a towel and cleans out his mouth before kissing him. She ends up kneeling by accident in the chips of her fish supper.

I loved Michelle Fairley and Mark Hadfield as Marion and Brenda. She is like a blonde member of Bananarama with huge Texan hair and dressed in spangled denim. Together they have a huge amount of fun as they drunkenly career and fall about in the most brilliant scene choreographed by Jonathan Watkins. The characterisation is just splendid.

Two girls go back with two men and a drinking contest ends with listening to the full version of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" after which they all express themselves in heartfelt monologues. And so to another scene which I found moving and original. Scullery to the music of Swan Lake dances a ballet of feeling and emotion. His partner is a wheeled supermarket trolley which he swirls and pivots. This ballet with its makeshift dancer is full of hope. It is about making the best of what you have.

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Written by Jim Cartwright
Directed by John Tiffany
Starring: Michelle Fairley, Mark Hadfield, Lemm Sissay
With: Faye Marsay, Mike Noble, Dan Parr, June Watson, Liz White, Shane Zaza
Designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Sound Design: Gareth Fry
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 9th September 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd August 2017 performance at The Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1 (Tube: Sloane Square)
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