Ring roads are not usually places you go
What makes Ring Road so much more satisfying is when those two other relationships crash into this nondescript hotel room.
The relationship that dominates is between primary school teacher Lisa and plumber Mark, the only two characters who appear on stage. She’s married to his brother Paul but there’s always been some undercurrent of attraction between them. Approaching her 41st birthday, all-too-aware that her biological clock is slowing down and that her husband’s sperm are not up to the job, Lisa has decided on Mark as the cause of a “spontaneous pregnancy”.
The two other relationships are initially off-stage, and seen only from one point of view; not least the usual brotherly rivalry which comes with the added weight of Paul also being Mark’s boss. Much more troubling is Linda’s relationship with a husband she has “grown to love”, but now seems on the point of losing in her overwhelming need to have a baby.
For most of the play’s running time, however, the focus is on Angela Darcy as Lisa and Martin Donachy as Mark; under Johnny McKnight’s expert direction, both are a real delight, throwing themselves (sometimes literally) into what appears to be a sharply written sex comedy with just a touch (as in McKnight’s own play for Random Accomplice/Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, Wendy Hoose) of underlying class conflict between a “snooty” middle class woman and a sticks-his-chewing-gum-on-the-bed working class man. Full comedic value comes from the all-too-mechanical gymnastics of sex, not least when a transfer from one single bed to the other – the hotel only had a twin room available – is required to avoid some annoying squeaking.
What makes Ring Road so much more satisfying is when those two other relationships crash into this nondescript hotel room. It’s rare enough for any contemporary writer to get their head around how mobile phones really have changed our world – how, with only landlines, we used to phone places in the hope that the people we wanted to speak to were there. Vettesse, however, makes full use of how mobiles enable us to call people, no matter where they are – and, indeed, also use GPS-based apps to find out where they are.
Best of all, while Paul’s first call arguably confirms our view of the character, the second lets Robbie Jack turn the tables, as Paul unexpectedly reveals his fears that Linda might be having an affair. It is here that the more serious, full dramatic impact of these characters’ lives is felt, and again it is performed with real heart and conviction. A poignant, remarkably grown-up conclusion to an entertaining comedy.