Pilot Theatre Company at the Lyric, Hammersmith
There are moments during Marcus Romer's production for Pilot Theatre Company when it is easy to see why this was voted 36th best play of the last century in the National Theatre's poll. Much of the writing is poetic and, at its best, is like a Lancastrian Under Milk Wood of the eighties. Its depiction of the desolation wrought on the industrial north during the Government of Lady Thatcher is incredibly powerful.
This revival relies on modernisation rather than trusting the play and text. This is a shame because the production falls between two times, partly mid-1980s and partly 2001. This dissipates the impression that the generally brief sketches of downtrodden hopeless lives should build and sometimes hinders characterisation. The feeling of utter hopelessness is not often there and the characters generally seem too happy and well-fed. The use of video and loud rock music seem a good idea at the start but begin to pall as they break the continuity of the story-telling. This is unfortunate as Romer does have some very good ideas and is always willing to experiment for effect. The use of a revolve pushed by cast members is interesting, perhaps showing the only work that most of them can get.
The highpoints are in monologues of utter desperation. The bestis from Emma Ashton as a mother of several who bemoans the downward spiral in luck that has left her husband unemployed and beating her. Almost as good are a pair played by Neville Robinson and Neve Taylor who, having nothing left to live for, start a hunger strike with no reason to stop it.
The comedy adds to the impression that love and sex, the only means of escape, are subjects for humour as often as pathos in Cartwright's eyes.
Romer gives it a happy ending with the thought that "If I keep shouting I might escape" from Road. It is as easy to see this as hopeless. However much you shout, there is no escape.
While this may not be an ideal production, it can be aurally and visually exciting and is a reminder of what a good play this is and for that it is worth a visit.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher