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Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry, until February 4

Road is set in a northern town where once there would have been“trouble at ‘t’ mill”.

Trouble is there are no mills any more. Mines and factories have closed, too. So have the offices adjoining them.

One of the more poignant moments in a bracing plunge back into the murky waters of the 1980s is when a still youthful former clerk looks back at the job that gave some order and meaning to her life.

And now? “Every day is like swimming in ache,” she says in one of several poetic lines that light up Jim Cartwright’s play like shafts of sunlight piercing a steady drizzle and the heavy showers of four-letter words that rain down from the stage at regular intervals.

Road is a dead end in every sense.

“We’ll live and die in these towns,” by Coventry band The Enemy provides the ideal soundtrack for the final curtain.

By that time the Criterion cast have given it their all, most of the actors taking on several parts. The exception is Dan Gough, who plays our guide for the evening with a rumbustious buoyancy and conspiratorial sense of mischief. Scullery by name; scallywag by disposition.

With the help of a splendidly flexible set, designed by Simon Sharpe, Scullery allows us to peep into broken lives. Venom and menace, bitterness and self-pity abound. So does alcohol and casual sex.

But the most touching scenes are the soliloquies.

Anne-marie Greene captures the desperation of a mother at the end of her tether as she sits on the edge of the stage and talks frankly to us through clouds of cigarette smoke. Pete Bagley looks back fondly on his days as a national serviceman while ironing his tie. What he really liked, though, was coming home to the Road.

“There were so many jobs then,” he recalls. “Everybody had an apprenticeship in something.”

Sound familiar? It will to Coventrians of a certain age.

Pictured above, from left, Anne-marie Greene, Dan Gough and Emma Withers.

Barbara Goulden adds: Jaw-dropping performances from Emma Withers, Anne-marie Greene and the rest of a hugely talented cast light up this dark production.

Don't confuse the play with a similar-sounding offering coming shortly to the Belgrade, although both have their roots in poverty. This focuses on a town on the industrial scrapheap in the 1980s. Author Jim Cartwright pulls no punches.

This is as painful to watch as it's funny, in almost equal parts. Narrator Dan Gough (Scullery) introduces us to a variety of dole-queue desperados who reveal their inner fears, then carry on partying right through the interval in the theatre bar.


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