Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Roadkill" - November 2010

This was our third attempt to see "Roadkill". We missed out on tickets for its pre-Fringe run at the Tron, and then despite tipping it as a show to see in Edinburgh we found the entire run sold out by the time we were able to plan our schedule. Even this time round, we had checked in advance with the Tron when tickets were going on sale and phoned first thing on the morning they were released - and availability was already limited. But there's no doubt about it - it was worth waiting for. While its inherent nature and limited audience capacity mean it will never become a cultural phenomenon in the manner of "Black Watch", make no mistake, "Roadkill" is a piece of theatre of that level of quality. Please be aware that our comments on the show give more away about the plot than we normally try to do.

Although staged in a flat in Glasgow's southside, the performance began as soon as we boarded the bus taking us from the Tron to the 'venue'. It's a brilliant way of introducing the characters as we meet young Nigerian Adeola on her arrival in Glasgow. And it's partly the wonderful naive optimism she displays in that short trip that makes it so difficult for the audience to watch as she is forced into the sex trade.

When watching a great piece of theatre, I often find particular scenes or lines being indelibly burned into my memory. But that isn't the case here. Instead, what has stayed with me is the almost uncontrollable urge to scream at Adeola to tell John Kazek's police officer of her plight. And I do genuinely mean uncontrollable - I was actually concerned the shouts in my head were going to escape through my mouth. We often talk about theatre being 'engaging' - for me "Roadkill" took the word to an entirely new level.

But although many of the play's scenes are disturbing and distressing, the brilliance of Stef Smith's writing is that it knows when to pull back. So many 'issue' based plays would take things to such an extreme dramatic conclusion that it would lose that vital, and horrific, realisation that what we are seeing is an everyday occurrence. Similarly, I think many writers would have been unable to resist the temptation to have the police officer Adeola encounters be less than genuinely concerned for her welfare. Indeed I think it's this lack of the dramatic that keeps the play grounded in reality and gives it a real power to affect its audience.

And of course, three magnificent performances help a little. Mercy Ojelade's transformation as Adeola is heartbreaking, but for me the real strength in her performance was actually to make it believable that this young girl would find the strength to escape. As 'Auntie' Martha, Adura Onashile brings out the complexity of the character as both abuser and abused while John Kazek is chameleon-like in several male roles.

Much of the credit for the show must also go to director Cora Bissett and her team responsible for the video elements of the production. With projected footage displayed on the walls, ceilings, a TV, and even a cast member, this is by far the most impressive incorporation of video footage and animation I've encountered in theatre. It's used ingeniously to bring Adeola's nightmarish experiences to life in a way we can just about comprehend and tolerate.

Although we could probably guess that such exploitation goes on close to home, it's very easy not to think about it. And while I'm not sure quite how successful it may be as a 'call to arms' for individuals to help those affected, anything that can raise the profile of the issue politically should be welcomed. And importantly, it never feels like the artists themselves are exploiting those living the lives of the characters it depicts, or comes across as preaching to the audience.

Roadkill is a co-production from Ankur Productions, Pachamama Productions and Richard Jordan Productions in association with the Traverse Theate Company and Tron Theatre. It has completed its current run of performances.
Image used with permission

2 Heckles

Waldorf said...

I've sang the praises of Cora Bissett's direction before. And a lot of the things that made "Amada" so magical were present here. Especially the incorporation of elements that could have overwhelmed the production but instead enhanced it. So it was good that Statler could finally see what I'd wittered on about.

We've had a slight internal disagreement though. Whilst the site specific setting did add to the atmosphere I feel that "Roadkill" could work almost as well in a more conventional theatrical setting. Perhaps not a main stage as that might make it too remote from the audience but certainly studio spaces with only minor adjustments. It deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Bluedog said...

I thought the journey 'there' was an integral part of this production, which would have been poorer without it.

It would not have worked for us to have come in cold to the first scene with the TV on, and the 'action' off in the other room.

I read somewhere that before Roadkill, Cora Bissett was thinking of moving away from the theatre for a while. I really hope she stays now - she has lots more to do, including taking Midsummer to London.