Review: A Clear Road

Laura Peatman 5 May 2012

A Clear Road

ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 5th May

In the director’s notes of the rather elusive programmes for this ADC lateshow, Harry Baker calls his new work a “strange beast of a play”. With all due respect, I’d like to correct him: this is, in fact, an impressive beast of a play.

Taking on both the writing and directing duties must be no easy task, but both the script and its execution were equally absorbing and exquisitely balanced between comedy and heartbreak. Set in an ambiguous time period and location, in the aftermath of a devastating war, ‘A Clear Road’ follows the journey of a recently reunited brother and sister taking their deceased father to burial, only to become caught up in the seemingly futile but ongoing scraps of lingering soldiers and partisans. That might make it all sound a bit bleak and heavy, but there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments here, primarily stemming from the siblings’ bickering and from Matthew Clayton’s turn as Blue, whose idealistic affection for ‘The Cause’ was poignantly funny. Helena Fallstrop also provided some early laughs as a bitter and sarcastic bridgekeeper, and it’s a shame her contribution had to be confined to only the first scene.

In previews and press releases there has been many a mention of the large coffin on wheels which dominated the stage for much of the show. I admit, I expected it to be gimmicky at best and cringe-worthy at worst; yet in fact it proved an effective dramatic tool as the alternating reminiscences and arguments of Peter and Jean took place across the looming presence of their father’s body, whilst the appearance of the soldiers heralded a new feel to the play as the Chief indifferently leapt onto it to enforce his dominance. Perhaps not a subtle move, but an effective one.

A set of generally strong performances was led by the wonderful Hugh Stubbins as Peter and Olivia Stocker as Jean. Stubbins in particular gave a controlled but nuanced portrayal, allowing enough insight into his bitterness and disillusionment without allowing the frequent changes of emotional pitch to become melodramatic. It was this sibling relationship which for me made the play a success, as their dialogue explored familial strains and resentments without drowning in schmaltz or angst. Although the battle-worn trio of the Chief, Blue and Red (Julian Mack, Matthew Clayton and Ryan Ammar) were entertaining in their respective strength, comedy and arrogance, the supposed tension and danger of their situation never quite became tangible, which diminished the potential of the injection of brusque realism which arrived in the form of Mary (Chloe France).

Yet overall, this was a well-constructed and adeptly performed piece. Whilst the imagery of Peter and Jean’s search for a ‘clear road’ may have been a little obvious, Baker’s script did an impressive job of exploring subtle emotional tensions whilst maintaining a strong plot arc, something which is often lacking in student writing: unlike other new dramas which sometimes come to the stage here, this was not only thoughtful and poignant, but also told a structured and entertaining story, making for a refreshing and enjoyable new work.

Laura Peatman