While the Conservatives maintain their powerful grasp on Britain, the country sits precariously amid an ever-closer prospect of nuclear war, both in the East and at home. The world’s highest grossing film, Top Gun, provides escapism for audiences plagued by high inflation and widespread strike action.
The year is 1986, and the Road is home.
Through poetry, energy, passion, and conviction, AUB Productions presents a vivid reimagining of Jim Cartwright’s legendary stage show Road for audiences this February.
The seminal play captures the stricken (and hauntingly familiar) social environment and context of the 1980s, and will open at Bournemouth’s Pavilion Dance South West from 19.30 on Thursday 16 February until Saturday 18 February (matinee).
First produced in 1986, the award-winning play Road’s powerful vignettes of working-class struggle and happiness despite bleak urban deprivation, soon catapulted young actors David Thewlis, Moya Brady and Lesley Sharp, to fame through TV director Alan Clarke’s stark TV adaptation.
Speaking about his role as narrator Scullery, final year BA (Hons) Acting student David McGouran says: “Scullery is a homeless man, who is the Road’s chief narrator and ringleader. He takes the audience to different stories among different lives on the road, and how they interact with each other to survive.
“He’s lost his house and everything, really. He’s now wandering the North, trying to find purpose, when he comes across this unnamed road. He feels welcome here, and he relates to the people. His downfall is that he becomes the embodiment of what you shouldn’t be – a drinker, smoker, and misogynist.
Scullery soon engages with fellow road resident Carol, performed by second year Acting student Sophia Barnett. Sophia says: “Carol knows everyone and everything. She knows everyone’s stories, but her life is very personal and private.
“She knows all the routes and pubs, but she has started to look for something or someone who can get her out of this road – she wants to make her mark and head to something new.
Both actors have explored degrees of personal connection to their roles; having grown up in industrial towns across the Northeast and midlands.
David says: “Being from the Northeast, there were things in Road that I recognised, with factories and industrial places being shut down due to Government decisions made at the time.
“I didn’t live through it, but I saw the aftermath and how areas became even more deprived. Because it’s a personal story, it felt close to be a part of it and to see what perhaps my parents or family members might’ve experienced – how they might’ve dealt with it.”
Sophia says: “It’s been a humbling and lovely experience to bring aspects of my own upbringing into this play, but I think that Carol is very different to me. Our age is similar, but our experiences are different.
“David O’Shea (Director) has brought in the concept of each of our characters having a secret – something that we hold to ourselves and keep concealed. It’s made us understand a bit more about why our characters act the way they do, giving subtext, intrigue, and interest.
“One of the things I’ve loved so much about this project is that, despite it being Thatcher’s Britain, with strikes, lack of money and jobs, David’s vision was that this road could be at any time in any part of the UK – despite that, the road stays strong.”
A Senior Lecturer in Acting on AUB’s BA (Hons) Acting course, David O’Shea is an award-winning Theatre Director, having brought to stage productions for both Leicester Haymarket Theatre and Theatre Powys.
Speaking about his vision for the play, David says: “Road is coming back to life again, exclusively due to the state that Britain finds itself in – thanks largely to Brexit and austerity. The play was written and received in response to the damage that Thatcher was starting to do, and what’s scary is that it is probably ten times worse now.
"The working class’s history and voice has been demolished and they’ve become a scapegoat for so many things.
“In the 80’s, Road was originally about having a ‘good night out’; people having a good time – very much what we call ‘route one acting’. Audiences went into the play with pints, they sat at an on-stage bar. There are references to working men’s clubs, musicals…
“I wanted to shift that a bit and come underneath it psychologically, because I didn’t just want people laughing at stereotypes of the working class. There’s a line in the play about how ‘somehow, someone might escape…’ and in Road, some people escape, some don’t.
“As we’ve started to get underneath the play’s scenarios, it’s interesting to find that they still resonate with the cast, perhaps even more so. It is ripe for revisiting. The message is that the working class can sometimes be its own worst enemy, it’s almost like an imperialist ‘stiff upper lip’.
“We just get on, we don’t question, we don’t revolt. We have aspirations, but people with aspirations that leave never return, so we don’t see what becomes of them. Now, as it was then, it seems impossible to get clear of your class.”
Speaking about her time at AUB, Sophia says: “This course is fabulous for learning so many other skills, not just one avenue of acting. I adore it. We’ve done two shows this year, one as crew, one as cast. You get to work with other courses, and it just feels like a whole new level coming together to do this one performance.
“We’re a genuine family, because of what we’ve all been through together, we have such compassion and care for each other.”
Both aspiring actors want to continue their work on stage and screen after graduation, with Sophia hoping to pursue roles in theatre, and David looking to make more of TV and film opportunities.
Road opens at Pavilion Dance South West on 16-18 February, with a Saturday matinee and concessionary tickets available.