Review: Road by Belper Players

Jim Cartwright’s Road could so easily have been written about Austerity Britain. The inequality and hopelessness of Thatcher’s 1980s is just as prevalent now.

As Belper Players performed the series of melancholic vignettes at the Strutts Centre last night a chilling resonance hung over the audience. 

Thirty-three years ago we hoped things might change, but in reality the rich have just got richer and the poor poorer.  What hope is there for the future now we might ask?

The play’s director Jane Wilton hoped it would be thought-provoking – so she would have been touched to hear one mum trying to explain the wider politics causing our sad situation to her questioning daughter on the walk home.

Cartwright’s play is a brutal, yet lyrical, anthem to working class people and poverty. He gives a voice to the poor as raw, outspoken truths pour out in a series of monologues and duets during a evening’s tour of a scruffy, depressed road in a small Northern town.

Moving from the street corner to the chippy and pub, living rooms and bedrooms, we meet the young, middle-aged and old as they tell us the stories of their bleak, wretched lives.

That’s not to say it is a total misery-fest. It might be bitter, but it is also funny and, on a few occasions, in an almost farcical way.

Staging such a seminal play is a brave decision and it demanded dedication from a cast of more than 20 actors, some of whom we were told had no acting experience. The superb performances given by all of them did nothing to give away the identities of the newbies and the whole drama was a triumph for the team.

There were of course stand-out deliveries from stalwart Belper Players such as Mik Horvath, who was scarily adept as Skinlad and magnificent as the outrageously dressed DJ Bisto.

Joe Riley, who played Billy in Billy Liar last year, was again excellent as the cocky young Brink and the despairing Joey, whose deathbed scene with his teenage girlfriend Clare, played by Alex Smith, moved some of the audience to tears.

Everyone adored Tracey Wilkinson as the withered alcoholic, Brenda, who was reduced to begging for cash for a drink from her own daughter.

However it was probably Lisa Benson, as the totally inebriated Helen trying to seduce a drunken young soldier, who stole the show. 

She had remained totally in character, swigging at a bottle and staggering gently around the stage, throughout the two-and-a-half hour-long drama – until it was time for her own very poignant vignette. She was brilliant.

The confines of the wide shallow stage space at the Strutts Centre are always challenging but on this occasion it was perfect for Cartwright’s promenade along the ‘road’ and set designer Barry Brown did a cracking job with help from Jamie Vella on lighting and sound. The props were also all spot-on – it’s always the little touches that make the difference.

Road can be seen at The Strutts Centre in Belper until April 13 at 7.30pm. As there is strong language and adult themes it is not suitable for those aged under 16. 

For tickets go to http://www.belperplayers.com

The rest of the cast were Johnny Vincent, Jeremy Crane, Liam Duffy, James Strath, Mollie Middleton, Andrew Barlow, Louise Jenkins, Jamie Brooks, Morgan Richter, Chelsea Richter, Alyson Koe, Roger Whiting, Jane Robertson, Nick Mothershaw, Tina Hampton, John Briscoe, Patricia Church, Jackie Maltby and Pip Price. 

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