Review: ‘Road’ at Leeds Playhouse

First you have to find your own road in to the Playhouse.  Most of the car park at the back has disappeared, swallowed up by the builders who are transforming our wonderful Playhouse to make it even more wonderful.

We seemed to be going in an ever-decreasing spiral to find the main entrance to the theatre. Even Harry Gration, coming out of the TV studios, didn’t know where we should go. So here’s a tip: find Aagrah restaurant then keep going a little and tucked behind is a small entrance. It was a bit like ‘Three Men in a Boat’ where they go around a maze, picking up others searching as they go along. By the time we found the entrance, there was a gaggle of us lost souls. Once in though, it was worth it. There’s a small area, with bar and coloured lighting, crammed with theatre goers who were buzzing with excitement to see the new Pop-Up Theatre, created out of a couple of workshops and seating about 350.

Sue Twist as Molly in Road. Photo: Kirsten McTernan

To the play: Road. Let’s take you back to the 1980s: Thatcher years. The pits have been closed down, leaving mining communities with no purpose. We are about to see one street in a desolate town on one night. The stage is set with Formica-topped table, a TV on castors, a grubby mattress, an ancient coach-built pushchair – a northern street. But this play is not all doom and gloom, northern angst. There are many joyful, funny parts to the play, contrasting with thought-provoking scenes of pathos.

The ensemble cast, there for the next four productions, is fabulously versatile – don’t assume they’re playing the same character when you next see them in successive scenes. There are only nine of them but they create characters from kids to OAPs, grouches to seize-the-moment people. Dan Parr when playing Eddie particularly stood out for me, but all the cast make their characters believable.

Eddie’s line “Who do I blame?” sums up the theme of the play.

Scullery (that’s a word you don’t hear much nowadays) is the seafaring character, played by Joe Alessi, who returns to the Road for one night and guides us through the happiness and trauma of the characters. Who is to blame for the despair felt by this shattered community? For my generation (older) I can remember the feeling: for the younger audience, I had the feeling they saw it as an historical play which exaggerated feelings.

The grubby characters are pushed to one side for the opening of the second half – be prepared to join in with a disco – hope you can remember the actions to the song Superman! In fact, the play is very interactive with cast charging through the audience – when Elexi Walker as Dor brushed past me carrying chips, my request for one was met with ‘Piss off!’ – completely in character.  Now that leads me to the language. Listen carefully because much of it is very poetic, but if you can’t stand swearing, especially the f-word, then cover your ears.

The play is a Northern version of Under Milk Wood and captures the era. The cast is excellent. the pace is fast. The atmosphere is good. Give it a go, but just a note of caution – the portaloos are outside so will be freezing in winter!

Every performance has Audio Description by the cast. So if they’re not in a scene, they go into the telephone box in the corner of the stage and describe the setting, etc. It’s the first time there’s audio description at every performance for those with impaired vision.

Road runs at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 29 September. Tickets cost £13.50-£31 from (0113) 213 7700 or via the website here.


This review was written by Pat Benatmane as part of our South Leeds Goes To The Playhouse partnership.

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