It’s Road, but not as we know it. Italia Conti Ensemble give their own take on JIm Cartwright’s 1986 classic. Much has changed in the ensuing thirty years but the working-class struggle is still with us: poverty remains an issue as does housing and its quality. At the same time, the streets continue to evidence the existence of an underclass. Meanwhile, a post-Thatcherite government runs the country, continuing the traditions of the ‘iron lady’ herself, of whose government Road was a major indictment.

This reinvention of Road was great entertainment but not a production for purists.

Actors from Italia Conti have a strong tradition of doing some things particularly well. Individually they are accomplished and versatile, their ensemble work is renowned and they create startling sets. Rarely, if ever, can the floor of this theatre have been cluttered with so much versatile furniture and junk to such spectacular effect. As always, this group knows how to move stuff around and they are dressed to do it. The costumes looked as if they had each randomly grab something from the neighbour’s clothesline and thrown it on, to great effect. Dressed for every event on the street and night out in town, the cast works its way through the highs and lows of daily life with angry encounters and mournful monologues. Each character is vividly portrayed, pace is maintained and delivery is perfect.

The play was cut (some might say hacked) to fit the time slot and to make room for the songs they composed. It’s questionable as to whether these were added because they truly enhance and further the message of the play or because the students needed to demonstrate their vocal skills. Some might argue the former, but the latter seems more likely. In their minds, perhaps, it was a mixture of both, but the creation of Road: the Musical seems to detract from the serious social message of the original: the plight of the people and the level of desperation; sufficient relief is found in the play’s humour. Meddling with the script also affects the balance of the play. The proportionality of each scene to the whole is lost, especially given the undue amount of time that seemed to be devoted to the anorexic bedroom saga.

Overall, the play is delightful and effectively showcases the talents of all the actors. Maybe future years can devise their own work or find something made for the time available. This reinvention of Road was great entertainment but not a production for purists.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

For the 10th consecutive year, The Italia Conti Ensemble will be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Past productions include Machinal, The Laramie Project and Oliver. This year, in its 30th anniversary year, we present Jim Cartwright’s award-winning play, Road. Set on a derelict Lancashire street, sharp and comic scenes jostle viciously to expose a community driven mad by despair. ‘Uncomfortable and magical, funny and bitter, a northern Under Milk Wood high on pills and booze’ (Sunday Times). With songs by Joy Division, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Gracie Fields! Road’s perceptive and frightening reality resonates as strongly as ever.

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