September 01, 1989

New Theatre Australia


Art of the States

South Australia

Review – Murray Bramwell


by Jim Cartwright

Red Shed Company

Wetpack Theatre

Living Arts Centre

July 27-August 9

Adelaide’s Red Shed Company is going from strength to strength. Their latest production, Road by Lancashire- based writer Jim Cartwright is further proof of the company’s versatility and commitment. For one thing it was enterprising of the company to secure a theatrical property of this calibre and to offer it, if not as an Australian premiere, then very nearly so.

Road has often been described as a kind of feral Under Milk Wood and the comparison is surprisingly apt. It is a play for voices, this time in thick Lancashire accents, which speak of their night thoughts and reveries. But Cartwright’s nocturne is a dark one, the revelations are the cauchemar of the walking dead of a post-industrial wilderness.The jagged remains of the streetsign say only `Road’- “It’s been broken,” explains Scullery, the unreliable narrator. As are the inhabitants- old, young, lonely  or in suffocating relationship, deranged, beaten and sick to death.

Director and designer Tim Maddock has taken Cartwright’s text – in all its lyrical and histrionic excess- and, in the stark confines of the Wetpack Theatre battened down with black palings and set with slag heaps( searchingly lit by Martin Smith), focused the actors’ set pieces with exponential effect. The performances are of evenly high standard and the play retains its integrity as a regional piece without becoming mere ventriloquism. Syd Brisbane is memorable as Skin, the samurai hoodlum, as are Ulli Birve as Valerie, a woman broken by marriage and Sally Hildyard as Helen pitifully courting a drunken soldier.

Presented in promenade style with an almost expressionist  setting,

Tim Maddock’s production balances the   recognition of individual human grief and futility with a larger, political context. But this place is beyond the ministrations of Marxist theory. Anyroad, the  last job in the world has already been lost. “Can we not have before again ?” one character asks with pointless nostalgia.  Only the sheer energy of the final chant -“Somehow, a somehow I might escape” – offers   hope that anyone might get out of this cul-de-sac. With Road the Red Shed Company have done more than justice to a strong new play. This continues to be a good year for them.

Road by Jim Cartwright. Directed and Designed by Tim Maddock, lighting by Martin Smith, Set realisation by Lisa Philip-Harbutt, Cast- Ulli Birve, Syd Brisbane, Andrew Donovan, Sally Hildyard, Nick Hope, Graham Kelleher, Joey Kennedy.

New Theatre Australia, September, 1989.

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