HUGO HAVRANEK finds more than a few potholes and bumps in A Clear Road.
ADC Theatre, 3rd-5th May, 11pm, £5-6
Directed by Harry Baker
I’m not going to criticize A Clear Road for addressing themes that were too broad with characters which were too narrow. Not for sudden shifts of tone that the actors didn’t seem to expect. And not for some weak performances. All that would be too easy.
See what I did there? I said I wasn’t going criticize, but then I did. Subtlety is not my strong point; but nor was it A Clear Road’s. On the contrary, if A Clear Road had a strong point, it was being ham-fisted.
There were certainly problems. But here’s the thing: I enjoyed A Clear Road. And I enjoyed it precisely because it was unsubtle. It didn’t try to tax intellectually, or to be clever to the point of obscurity – a problem that is often encountered in new writing.
Take the central conceit: a brother and sister drag their dead father in a coffin (hint: “emotional baggage”) down a road (hint: “life is just a highway”). The play’s success hinged on the use of that great prop. Had it just sat there, it might have been an irritating gimmick – but it became an integral part of the story and of the physical drama. Everything you could do with a coffin (that’s not obscene or plain silly) was done.
Add to this conceit war and gun-wielding renegades. These characters, in their anachronistic camo, were fantastic. Julian Mack was the star of the show as Confident Chief, followed by Amusing Flappy Underling (Matthew Clayton) and Aggressively Insecure Youngster (Ryan Ammar). These were stereotypes, but we forgive them because stereotypes are amusing to watch, both individually and as a group. Their lack of depth was justified as a foil from which the main characters ought to have been able to springboard into their third-dimension.
But these main characters weren’t deep enough and the board was really quite springy. The metaphor ends messily. Peter (Hugh Stubbins) was the stubborn country bumpkin; Jean (Olivia Stocker) was the educated urbane citymouse. That’s all there was to them. Together their dialogue was the biggest problem with the play: it was too intent on letting us know their back-story and revealing conflict. It went on for too long and was too repetitive. And it jumped around too much – one moment they were reminiscing, the next; arguing, the next; making up. Stubbins coped with these leaps of focus by reacting rather too violently, Stocker by not reacting enough.
The result was a play which has great moments and components that are inspired. Although its rather simplistic approach was effective, hiccups in the execution – both writing and acting – spoiled that success.