Tobacco Road is, more than anything, a lot of fun to watch and a strong example of the power of devised theatre and the ensemble. Incognito Theatre, the creators of the sell-out All Quiet On The Western Front, return to the Fringe with the story of a group of young Londoners seeking to climb to the top of their city's underworld in the 1920s. It’s all very Peaky Blinders and Guy Ritchie.
Incognito’s vibrant devising and image-making is top notch.
Instantly apparent in Tobacco Road is the piece’s tone; Incognito absolutely smash the right level of fun and grit needed for the piece. The raw stylisation of the storytelling and action is wonderfully balanced and never too indulgent or overpowering, with intuitive lighting and modern music helping to achieve a Tarantino-esque vibe. Incognito’s vibrant devising and image-making is top notch as evidenced by a thrilling boxing scene. The cast is charismatic, likeable and confident - they have a lot to be confident about - and thus, the plot and characters are believable and real, providing a solid grounding for the action. There are also some more serious moments peppered into the script that transcend the piece's jovial tone, providing the story and characters with crucial weight.
The minor drawbacks are barely significant compared to the piece’s overall success. A couple of scenes lag noticeably; perhaps as the emphasis on constant action leaves the more conversational scenes feeling static and lacking in interest. A midway is possible and Incognito, being the capable and inventive company that they are, are sure to find it. Another worrying issue is that, for such a fun show, the cast didn’t consistently appear to be enjoying performing the story as much as we were watching it; meaning that some of the piece’s inherent joie de vivre failed to materialise at points. Granted, this review was taken from the final show of a long Fringe run. In addition, though the elements of the show’s stagecraft are solid in an excellent set of lighting, sound, set and costume design, a particular turning point in the narrative is let down by its lack of ‘magic’, thus taking us momentarily out of the story and robbing the play of a potentially breathtaking and innovative - albeit shocking - moment.
The road to the conclusion is finely laced with suspense while the finale itself manages to feel appropriately climactic despite the consistently high energy and excitement. The choreography here is especially astounding as the cast demonstrate masterful teamwork. The resolution is worthy of the lead-up, although we are left wanting a slightly more emotional punch. Tobacco Road is a ingenious piece of devised theatre from a fierce ensemble in Incognito as well as a fantastic example of the Young Pleasance and Pleasance Futures programmes.