Basically, Road is the story of a rather run-down street in a small Lancashire town - the town where I live, to be exact - and its many residents. It is written as a series of interconnecting vignettes studying the lives of the different members of the Road community, all woven together by the narrator, Scullery...The blurb describes Scullery as a "rum-soaked wideboy", but personally, I disagree. I think his character is more disheartened than "rum-soaked": I imagine that he works nine-to-five during the week, then, at the weekends, spends his wage on nights out, rather like most inhabitants of said small Lancashire town. However, the play is set over one night; it's rather abstract in style, yet maintains a sense of grounded reality throughout, skipping between the surreal and the observant.
It's not the style of the play which makes it such an amazing piece of writing, though. Cartwright's characters fill with life, in the way only a truly brilliant playwright can achieve. They have hopes and dreams and desires. They have friends and enemies and lovers. They are all entirely different people, linked only by their connection with this one strip of scruffy Lancashire land, and by the fact that no matter what their history, all are, for one reason or another, trapped. As Cartwright writes, in the guise of Joey, who starves himself to death to see what will happen: "Wasting your whole lives. Work, work, work, work, work. Small wages, small wages, small wages. Gettin' by with a smile. Gettin' by without a smile." Nobody wants to stay on the Road. Whether they're physically trapped there, like Valerie, trapped by her drunken, abusive husband, or trapped in some other way, like Jerry, who can't let the past go, they are all stuck together, getting through the day.
Cartwright's writing is by turns comical and dramatic, light and dark...frequently obscene, but always empathetic. Again, this is strengthened, for me, by my own connection to the play: I know just how right Cartwright's writing is. When Joey shouts "You have murdered the child in man! Murderers! CUNTS!", when Scullery screams "You fucking bastards!" at the sky, when the foul-mouthed DJ, Bisto, tells you what you can expect from him ("Music to dance to, talk through, an' grab a slag to..."), well...that's who we are. That's the truest representation of the speech round here I've ever read.
Throughout the play, there's are strong undertones of tension and of discord. Even the comical characters argue violently, and all this comes to a hilt towards the end with a huge fight between two of the characters...again, it's coarsely written but beautifully vulgar.
Toward the end of the play, Cartwright's characters appear to realise just how trapped they are. Some of them remain unconscious of it, some of them become aware of it...some of them always know. But as one of the characters screams out to the audience, "NOWT'S NICE! Where's finery? Fucked off! Where's soft? Gone hard! I want a walk on the mild side. I want to be clean. Cleaned. Spray me wi' something sweeet, spray me away..."
There's something about this play. A mood, perhaps, or maybe it's just that one day, as you read it, all the characters and the situations and the words will click together in your mind and you'll know exactly what Cartwright means. That's the beauty of this play. It's relatable for anyone who's ever felt themselves to be trapped by circumstance, whether that's in a little run-down Lancashire town or on the most beautiful beach in the world...