Thursday, February 21, 2013

'One for the Road' by Willy Russell

21 February 2013

The Royal Theatre, Northampton, reopened after refurbishment in 2006 with ‘Follies’ by Stephen Sondheim (reviewed here in November 2006) which was the first production by the Royal and Derngate’s new Artistic Director, Laurie Sansom. This week we were back at the Royal for Laurie Sansom’s final offering before he leaves to become Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland. His Northampton swansong was the appropriately titled ‘One for the Road’ by Willy Russell. I’ve enjoyed Laurie Sansom’s work at Northampton. While avoiding the ambitious excesses of his predecessor, Rupert Goold (a hard act to follow), he has demonstrated a lightness of touch, a mastery of music and a great ability for comedy, across a very varied range of material. Laurie Sansom productions which stand out for me from the past seven years include ‘Follies’, a marvellous ‘Wizard of Oz’ (reviewed here in January 2009), 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (reviewed here in September 2008) and 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' adapted by Lisa Evans (reviewed here in February 2008) – all of which incorporated local amateur actors alongside a professional cast. I also fondly remember Sansom’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Private Fears in Public Places’ – with the audience seated on the stage, amongst the action (reviewed here in July 2009) and the surreal televisual farce 'Soap' by Sarah Woods (reviewed here in April 2007) with its magnificent revolving stage.

‘One for the Road’ is a Willy Russell comedy originally written in 1976 but significantly revised in 1985 (to set the action in the 1980s). A disastrous dinner party in a new housing estate somewhere in the North of England leads two couples to question what they are doing with their lives and to wish for the freedom of the open road. ‘One for the Road’ feels like a cottage pie (or ‘hachis au parmentier’) incorporating ingredients including Mike Leigh’s ‘Abigail’s Party’ (with John Denver here standing in for Demis Roussos), Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing’ (but with ‘Wogan’ rather than ‘Desert Island Discs’) and 'Neighbourhood Watch' by Alan Ayckbourn (reviewed here in March 2012) (with its common theme of suburban gnome vandalism). Willy Russell’s play predates all of these so it is a little unfair to suggest it felt derivative. It was a very funny show with a dark Ayckbournian sting in the tail and a nice way to say farewell to Laurie Sansom.

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