This week, the New Theatre plays host to Road, a humorous and at times harrowing depiction of a working class town in Lancashire during the 1980s. It is an ensemble piece, with all but one of the actors multi-rolling in order to explore the multitude of people living on’t Road. Stevenson, a first time director, has taken on a popular, modern play and really made it her own. Road is brimming with life, vibrancy and enthusiasm. The cast are convincingly Northern, albeit with the occasional accent-slip, and genuinely hilarious.
The humour is where Road really shines and no one is funnier than Ben Mellor as Bisto, whose disco is one of the highlights of the play. Included in the programme is a flyer for ‘Bisto’s Beethoven Disco’, which the audience are invited to attend. Although most audience members were initially apprehensive about dancing onstage, once the current Glee favourite ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ was blasted from the speakers, most of the audience was onstage, partying alongside the characters. This is something that you really need to experience. It could have easily fallen flat but naturally, the ‘80s classics got everyone dancing.
However, the play is not just one big party. Intermingled with the comedic turns are moments of genuine tragedy, with many of the characters’ melancholic reflections on their lives touching the audience’s hearts. The ensemble cast sometimes made it difficult for this to come across, due to the occasionally choppy role switching and scene changes. Yet, this did not detract from some outstanding performances. Sam Pearce’s Joey, Sophia Levine’s Valerie and the closing interrogation of the audience unsettlingly captured the pessimism of the working class 1980s. Congratulations are also well deserved for Christopher Walters, whose Scullery transcended the barriers between the serious and comical, providing a welcome coherency throughout the play.
Road is a multi-dimensional exploration of Northern life, with exceptional performances, flawless direction and even a real brick wall. There are plenty of reasons to see Road, but if nothing else, go to sing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ with a bunch of drunken Northerners. Ey up!