Review: Solace of the Road, Derby Theatre

B_FnvPmUwAAFVPJ.jpg-largeSolace of the Road is an amazingly sophisticated piece of young people’s theatre with an important message, beautifully told.

It is moving, uplifting, funny and big-hearted and everyone involved deserved the tremendous applause from the Derby Theatre audience at the end of a terrific evening’s entertainment.

Mike Kenny adapted Carnegie award-winning author Siobhan Dowd’s novel especially for the talented team at the theatre and the resulting world premiere is being performed there until March 14.

The play is alive with the passions and frustrations of growing up and follows Holly, a young girl in care, played by Rebecca Ryan, who is best known for her role in TV’s Waterloo Road.

The characters we meet on stage are responsible for helping tell Holly’s story and the audience becomes her confidante.

Much of the story takes place in Holly’s mind and the characters have been painted very much as she sees them in her own fantasy world.

Apart from Holly and her favourite care worker Miko, played by Robert Vernon, the other 19 characters are played by just four actors in fast-changing multiple roles and this, together with the brilliantly inventive set by Barney George, brings a fluidity to the piece which allows Dowd’s complex story to be told.

Miko has left the care home for a new job and Holly has been fostered out to a considerate middle-class couple.

Materially she is home and dry but the spirited teenager is sure that home should be more than this and that if she can just get to Ireland she will find her lost mother and a better life.

She borrows her foster mother’s wig to make herself look older and sets off. Headstrong and street-smart, she boldly sets out as her glamorous blonde alter ego Solace.

There is much symbolism in the way in which she finds a new identity simply by pulling on new clothes and a wig and a heart-breaking link to the wig and the abuse Holly suffered at the hands of her mother.

Ryan is faultless as the lead character. She is such a convincing, credible Holly it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

She was backed up by an impressive company of actors, including the prodigious Polly Lister, who plays her alcoholic Mam, the well-meaning foster mother and stereotypical school-mistress among others.

The chemistry between Lister and Neal Craig, who plays both her evil boyfriend Denny and her husband (the foster father Ray) is powerful and an important backbone to the play.

Naomi Ackie and Jack Finch, whose main roles are as Holly’s two ‘care babe’ soulmates Grace and Trim, are also tremendous and bring a lot of the wit into the production.

Olivier award-winning Kenny and director Sarah Brigham have between them created a great piece of theatre that will appeal to a wide audience and leave them talking and thinking about Holly and her journey.

The sound designer was Ivan Stott, lighting was by Alexandra Stafford, the fight director Ian Stapleton, company stage manager Surenee Chan Somchit, deputy stage manager, Beth Williams, assistant stage manager Stuart Lambert, rehearsal assistants, Angharad Jones and Laura Ford and photographer Robert Day.

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