Saturday, 25 November 2017

Review Bad Roads

Tim Gopsill is moved and informed by a harrowing and insightful drama on civil war in the Ukraine.

Bad Roads
by Natal'ya Vorozhbit
Translated by Sasha Dugdale

Sex And Savagery In The Ukraine

Ordinary people are still killing each other in the Ukraine, mysteriously unreported in Britain after three years of civil war. Where media are failing, theatre is stepping in, with accounts of the traumas of war more horrifying than anything you would see on the news.

The Royal Court has a programme of co-operation with Ukrainian playwrights, supported by the British Council, and is presenting Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit, where the conflict is seen through the eyes of women.

Bad Roads is a psychodrama with six scenes in which a number of women confront men at war as individuals; men they encounter, or want to be with, or by whom they are held captive. Some violence is involved in two of them.

The brutalisation the men have suffered is complicated and spasmodic. Loving one minute, aggressive the next. But made even more problematic when those men are  put in murderous danger.

So the encounters are not simply between belligerent men and innocent women. There is a recognition of something more complex, even a frisson of attraction towards a dirty, hungry, desperate fighting man somewhere inside the desperate women.

Likewise the men are not all-conquering. They are victims of war as well. In some of the sex scenes, enacted or recalled, their own sexual vulnerability is displayed.

This is not to downgrade  the most horrific, degrading scene which takes place in total darkness; the sounds are harrowing enough. Ria Zmitrowicz convinces as Yulia in her combination of vulnerability and knowingness, weakness and strength; as does Tadgh Murphy as Stas, the soldier, with his internal conflicts and erratic behaviour.

The settings are all dark in any case. Camilla Clarke’s set consists entirely of stripped bare tree trunks, through which the actors rush or creep in dim light like fighters in a forest, and has just a couple of upended chairs, an iron bath and a chest freezer cabinet, whose grisly contents most of the time have to be imagined.

Director Vicky Featherstone handles this touchy, knife-edge material carefully with varied pacing.  The first and longest scene, for instance, has a woman journalist (Kate Dickie) recounting a week-long visit to the front line, which establishes at the start the ambiguities of the male and female liaisons within the play.

Interestingly all the seven-strong cast, who double up for the 14 roles, have strong regional British Isles accents, which emphasise the varied cultures within a state at civil war. They are different peoples but what they have in common, in place of a national identity, is their suffering.

Bad Roads is brilliantly written and bravely acted. It has to be said that it is challenging, not to say painful, to watch and listen to at times and thoroughly deserves an amber/green light.

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