London’s Sunday Times famously described it as “Coronation Street with vomit, excrement and used contraceptives … Our Town in terminal disarray”. British playwright Jim Cartwright’s biting black comedy Road, Theatre @ York’s season finale, takes us on an unforgettable journey into the heart of an impoverished community. The show, directed by York Theatre Professor Mark Wilson, previews tonight, opens tomorrow and runs to Saturday, March 29 at York’s Keele campus.
Road is set in a small Lancashire town in 1987 in Margaret Thatcher’s England. The town’s inhabitants are all unemployed. Scullery, the town drunk, conducts us on a tour of his street, introducing us to the people who live there. They’re attempting to escape the poverty in which they are mired through various means: sex, religion, nostalgia, suicide – and most often, drink.
Road was Cartwright’s first play and it was an instant hit. On the dole in 1985 at the age of 26, Cartwright sent an unsolicited manuscript of Road to the Royal Court Theatre in London. It was produced the following year, toured nationally, and won the George Devine Award, the Plays and Players Award, Drama magazine’s Best New Play award and the Samuel Beckett Award. In 2000, in a poll conducted by London’s National Theatre, Road was voted number 36 of the 100 most representative plays of the 20th century.
“This is a play about people trying to cope, and it shows us the heights and the depths,” said Wilson. “It’s both poetic and profane, exuberant and despairing. It’s also hilarious. And it’s profoundly human.”
Penned in a time of economic hardship and social unravelling, Road addresses issues that Wilson sees resonating just as much in our day.
“In 1996, then Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland said: ‘Poverty is a policy failure that degrades people – those who suffer it, and those who tolerate it. Poverty is still the gravest insult to human dignity. Poverty is the scar on humanity’s face.’
“Road makes that scar visible,” Wilson said. “It shows us the beating hearts and fevered dreams of an afflicted community.”
In Theatre @ York’s production, the encounter is heightened by the fact that there are no seats in the theatre. Audience members literally walk the ‘road’, following the action from room to room as actors move in their midst.
Wilson’s professional credits as a performer include Wordsmyth Theatre’s The Dumb Waiter in 2013 (Dora Award nomination for outstanding male actor) and blood projects’ little tongues at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival (a NOW magazine pick for outstanding production and outstanding ensemble). He has appeared on major stages across the country, including the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canadian Stage in Toronto, Edmonton’s Workshop West, Theatre New
Brunswick, Regina’s Globe Theatre and the Vancouver Playhouse. His directing credits include Cabaret (Toronto Youth Theatre), Disciples (Toronto Summerworks), Mister Invisible (Resource Centre for the Arts, St. John’s), Caribou Song (Red Sky Performance), Romeo & Juliet (Theatre By The Bay, Barrie), and The Snow Queen (Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus). He also directed That Dorothy Parker at the Toronto Fringe Festival, the remount of which received a Canadian Comedy Award nomination for best direction.
For Theatre @ York’s Road, Wilson directs a lively young cast drawn from the Department of Theatre’s 4th Year Acting Conservatory. Fight direction is by former York theatre student Simon Fon, one of Canada’s leading fight masters. Upper-year undergrads make up the talented creative team handling all aspects of production design and execution. Amanda Wong designed the sets and Stephanie France is the costume designer. Sound design is by Laura Krause, and lighting design by Sarah Ernandez.
Road runs nightly to Saturday, March 29. Showtime is 7:30pm, with matinees Wednesday, March 26 and Friday, March 28 at 1pm. Performances take place in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre in the Centre for Film and Theatre. Admission is $17, $12 for students and seniors, and $5 for the preview. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 416-736-5888 or at the Box Office.