David Greenwood reviews Jim Cartwright's 'Road' featuring Lemn Sissay as the central character, Scullery
Why go see the famous poet, performer, radio presenter and now actor, Lemn Sissay? For most folk he is just a multi-talented writer, and compelling performance artist. For me what he does is at the heart of my work.
So I simply had to see Lemn in 'Road' at the Royal Court Theatre. I feel lucky to have had a seat. It looked to me like it was sold out.
'Road' is a hardcore look at a street in Northern England, probably close to Bolton, as there's a reference to the "Nevada Roller Disco". It is set in 1986 and in particular a Friday night in "the road". Themes of the job losses suffered during the 80's, the consequent lack of direction, alcoholism, ageing, violence and child neglect are given complete exposure. There is a beautifully-acted existential crisis scene which ultimately leads to suicide.
These are all issues I face in my work with survivors of child abuse.
This play is not entirely negative though. The actors are each bursting with charisma and this means the play bounces along despite the dark interludes. It treads on the edge of complete despair throughout but most of the characters are so downtrodden that their energy is simply devoted to having a good "neet 'art".
The central character, Scullery, (played by Lemn Sissay) takes us through the goings on in the various households in the Road. His best Wigan accent is on show and his presence as the happy-go-lucky friend to all helps lift the play from its darker scenes.
Anyone who knows Lemn Sissay's story will know that he suffered appalling mistreatment by social services, was treated badly by long term foster parents and suffered physical abuse and racism in children's homes around Manchester. For me the genius who cast him in the role has given this play genuine credibility. It is as relevant to what we are having to deal with now (child neglect and abuse) as it was when it was first written and staged. The 1980s were a decade of child neglect. Survivors are only now coming forward. Only now are police and the courts listening to the once ignored youth of the 1980s.
Yet the neglect of children we have seen in councils throughout the country in the last 15 years arising from negligence and then austerity feels to me to be worse than the 1980s. I hope I'm wrong.
'Road' is a lesson to all future generations. We need government, councils and communities to promote employment, look after those who are failing, and to keep a closer eye on child welfare.
Well done to Lemn and all involved in staging 'Road'.
7th September 2017