November 07, 2013
Cartwright’s Road at 9th Avenue Studios
: Poster design by Parker Wrenn (DE '12).
A perfect bookend to Neverwhere, Jim Cartwright’s Road takes audiences into another dark fantasy, one that came horribly true, the England of Margaret Thatcher.
Take the M40 out of London, continue north to the M6 at Birmingham and you’ll find your way to Lancashire. There’s a lot of pavement, physically and psychically, between Downing Street, where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ruled, and the common streets of the industrial north of England where her policies were insinuated into the everyday lives of working people. So, while audiences at the Cornish Playhouse are getting an amazing, fantasy view of the downtrodden of London, those at Cornish’s 9th Avenue Studios can see a more realistic, and equally dramatic, picture of the people of Lancashire with Road.
“Jim Cartwright’s Road is a shout of defiance, a burst of laughter, and primal scream of despair from the dark heart of Margaret Thatcher’s England,” says Christine Sumption, who directed the production for Cornish’s theater department. “Road shines the light on the lives of working class people in Lancashire in the 1980s, when Thatcher was trying to sell England on her sunny vision of progress while poverty, widespread unemployment, devastated labor unions, and ever-diminishing opportunities generated rage, depression, and brash defiance.
“It’s a place so damaged that the name on the street sign has been ripped off and all that’s left is a jagged edge and the word ‘Road.’”
Road opened in March, 1986, in the small upstairs studio theater of London`s famed Royal Court, home through the years to a long line of irreverent leftist playwrights, including Edward Bond and John Osborne. One critic described the play as “Monty Python meets Balm in Gilead.” Another called it, “a northern Under Milk Wood, high on pills and booze.” Robert Falls, who directed the play’s American premiere at Chicago’s Remains Theatre in 1987, likened Road to “a scuffed-up Our Town.”
Road depicts the people locked out of 1980s success with terrifying accuracy and strange poetry. The play’s vision of life is full-blooded, evoking not only of the rage and frustration of people trying to make a life in a world that barely recognizes their existence, but the joy and tenderness that can still exist among people in the worst of circumstances. However bleak the world can be, human beings can be surprisingly resilient.
Sumption sees Road as having continuing relevance. “While it may be painful to recognize that the outcries of the 1980s still have resonance today (‘We are the 99%’),” she writes in her director’s notes, “it’s exhilarating to explore Cartwright’s world with this fearless group of Cornish theater artists.”
Road plays November 6-9 at 8:00 p.m., November 10 at 2:00 p.m. and 7 p.m., at Cornish’s 9th Avenue Studios, 427 9th Avenue North. Ticket information.
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