Jim Cartwright's Road is regarded as a cult classic. First performed at the notorious and politically subversive Royal Court Theatre in 1986, it is an angrier, edgier, homage to the angry-young-men plays of the 1950s, complete with the defining class satire and explicit, shocking content. In the 1980s it did for theatre what John Cooper Clarke did for performance poetry, in that Cartwright made the form appeal as being refreshingly punk – a vital part of fringe culture.
It's fitting that Road be restaged here in Birmingham during a time of grim austerity under recession and rising unemployment. On entering the Crescent's auditorium it was a shock to discover that Stage 2 is an all-youth troupe! It was a bizarre moment of realisation. It was a cast of school kids performing a play rife with sexually explicit scenes, deliciously filthy language and not to mention an unrelentingly bleak tone. There is no moment of redemption or reconciliation at any point, Road starts depressing and ends with the characters either miserably despondent or (spoiler alert) dead.
Highlights included George Hannigan and Anna Gilmore as a young couple on an existential hunger strike. Both of their monologues were particularly affecting, especially given their initial light-hearted exchange. Indeed the playing off of hilarious pathos with the tougher scenes had the effect of making the heavier moments feel even more sincere and earned throughout; something largely in debt to the strength of the young actor's performances.
There is a chanting scene in the denouement of the last act, which in this production ended with the entire cast and chorus, surrounding the audience and screaming 'Somehow, a somehow might escape!' It was oppressive and chilling in an unexpectedly Lord of the Flies kind of way.
The exuberance of the performances and the uncompromising production of a challenging play had the culminating weight of both uplifting and exhausting the audience, as they left seeming somewhat shell-shocked.
Road provided a truly immersive evening of theatre; unpretentious, funny, sad, and brilliantly played.