Pilot Theatre director Marcus Romer tells us in the programme that Road "was voted number 36 in the top 100 plays of the last century at the Royal National Theatre." We didn't of course have a National Theatre for more than two thirds of the century; and there are grounds for saying that Road isn't a play at all.
A poem, certainly; a lament, perhaps; maybe even an elegy - but it lacks those elements that Aristotle, Brunetiere and their fellow dramaturges regarded as fundamental to the essence of a play. No matter: the same could be said of many another theatrical pieces, not least Under Milk Wood, to which Road bears more than a passing structural resemblance.
And it is certainly a mighty and brave piece of writing. Jim Cartwright maps the desperate alienation of urban poverty like nobody else, so that when two characters remark that "it's a long life" (expletive deleted), a cold shudder reminds you that they really are longing for the leaving of it. Not for this author any hackneyed cheerfulness in adversity: he goes way beyond that to characters who are "gambling with gabble to see what comes out" and for whom the closest thing to hope is to cling to the mantra: "If I keep shouting, I somehow might escape." Some hope.
Pilot's view of Road is that it recounts what could happen "at any time,
in any place and on any road", and this production is informed by that highly
questionable premise. The play is firmly rooted in Thatcher's Britain, in, presumably, Lancashire; and whilst it is perfectly legitimate to update it to 2002 - since time has certainly not improved the situation - it is patently rubbish to pretend that it’s happening in glamorous York as the projected film footage initially suggests. Nor is relevancy broadened by deracinating vocal accents and substituting a random selection from various parts of the land: universality proceeds from the particular, not from dilution.
The script is a difficult one for actors, with long soliloquies which need
sensitive pacing and modulation. Pilot's cast is strong. Steve Owen is laid-back (often literally) and laconic as the dipso narrator Scullery, who acts as chorus from a highly effective revolving climbing frame of a set by Dawn Allsopp. Nicky Goldie and Rob Pickavance, as the more mature characters, also turn in workmanlike performances, although they, like the rest of the cast, would have benefited from more detailed attention from a director who
seems more interested in tricking out his production with superfluous film
and live video. These have the unfortunate tendency to prettify the images on stage and thus work directly counter to the bleakness of the script.