Linda Anderson reviews Bad Roads at the Royal Court
Part of the International Playwrights programme at the Royal Court, Bad Roads provides a series of savage snapshots of the war in Ukraine. Told from a female perspective, we see how women adapt to find love, avoid abuse and ultimately seek a path of survival along the icily cold roads of the play’s title.
Compared with the closing scenes, the tone of the opening is positively jovial; a journalist recounts her experiences of interviewing a soldier with whom she later falls in love. She recollects some of the grimmer details of travelling through the frontline of a war zone, but the mood is defiantly upbeat and woven with lots of easy humour. This is the only moment we feel secure in the narrative and confident in the narrator stood before us, from here on in we are submerged in the chaos of war- each account becomes a little darker and a little less clear cut. As one section merges into the next, we feel less sure that each character’s story hasn’t become confused and tangled with the next. The story of the journalist seems to have similarities with the medic who is mourning the loss of her lover a little further along the road. And the anecdote of a chicken killed on the road is first told by the women being held captive, but is then enacted by a different character later on. The only difference in each re-surfacing of a detail is that the second viewing is more frightening to watch.
If the war is seen from a female perspective, Vorozhbit’s text does not cut short the male experience of war. Women do not suffer at the hands of men; they suffer because of the war, and the even the most horrific moments in the play- when a man abuses a woman he has taken hostage- there is no sense of a gendered battle, simply humans damaged by war. The audience is tightly packed into the space in the Jerwood Upstairs and we are bought so very close to the excruciating action on stage; it is a feat of directing that Vicky Featherstone manages to transport us along this road of war with minimal changes to the set. A simple design of ice-encrusted trees fill the space and the characters stand amongst them to deliver their lines to one another. Foregoing the need to represent a car or a bench, this production is purposefully stripped backed to reveal the full savagery of war and the brilliance of the cast’s performance.
The only downside is that this production seems almost too universal in its scope; it could be showing the effects of war on any country. Whilst the fluid nature of each snapshot successfully suggests the chaos of conflict, its impressionistic style leaves you no more informed about the conflict in Ukraine than when the performance began.