Venue: Drama Barn, University of York
As far as a full experience goes, the DramaSoc’s performance of Road comes about as close to faultless as you can hope for. Engaging from the very first boisterous chant, you’ll find yourself wholly devoted to each layer of the play. Whether it’s a result of the expletive lined quick-fire banter, the dizzying blend of stories, or the painfully powerful acting, you’ll barely feel able to move come the interval.
Road is full of grit, but the characters still find themselves slipping and tripping all over the icy reality of their situation: no doubt unaided by their dependence on alcohol. It tells of the destitute poverty of one unnamed street, in the wake of the closure of heavy industry. Unsurprisingly the set is minimal, recycling unaltered jaded furniture as we – often guided by Scullery, the provider of endless comforting humour – move from room to room across the street; emphasising the dull sameness of every life.
And yet the deliverance of the play couldn’t be further from dull. The humour is so constant and the changes in scene so rapid that it feels like you’ve been thrown head first into a whirlpool of 80s Northern life as these people somehow manage to entertain each other – and you – while adversity and misery hang over the street. The chemistry of the cast is set alight during moments of dodgy dancing and incongruous drunks.
It’s thanks to a faultless cast that the play maintains blistering momentum, while slowing down occasionally to focus in on the adversity. To begin with I was irritated by the multiple roles that the majority were forced to play, but later came to appreciate how this method stretched each member to the full length of their acting ability. Some were in one moment screeching adolescents, the next: shivering and forgetful pensioners, struggling to come to terms with the changes in their world. This adaptability is maximised by the director (Matthew Roberts) with almost every actor/actress going through a large range of emotions as the performance plays out. The quality of the cast means it is impossible to pick a best stand-alone performer. Jamie Bowman is fantastic as Scullery, drawing the audience into street life. But equally Rose Burston and Thomas Ryalls are very convincing as hopeless lovers, while Andy Bewley depicts a mellowed but psychopathic Skin-lad with deft skill. His recollection is one of the most clever and intense of director/actor syntheses in the play.
The acting shines during such fiercely delivered soliloquys. These moving moments – and there are many – are enhanced by the proximity of the audience to the actors. I hadn’t been to the Drama Barn before, but it really is the perfect setting for Road as this closeness illuminates the tortured expressions of some performers, and the deterioration of the characters they portray.
Immersive, inventive, fluid and honest, Road will stun you and shock you and leave you with a solid feeling of what it was like, for the losers of the deal, to scrape by in the Thatcher era.