THE ROAD TO NAB END
by William Woodruff adapted by Philip Goulding.
Coliseum Theatre To 10 July 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 26, 30 Jun, 10 Jul 2.30pm.
Audio Described: 7 July.
BSL Signed: 8 July.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.
Review: Stoon 19 June.
Mean Streets of yesteryear .
This Road ends in a cul-de sac of austerity, but the pavements are laid with theatrical gold in Kevin Shaw’s excellent World Premier of William Woodruff’s 1993 autobiography Billy Boy (reissued/retitled in 2000 as The Road To Nab End).
Born in Blackburn in 1916, the author relates the first sixteen years of his life, which cover the decline of the cotton industry against the backdrop of the Great Depression. There are Dickensian levels of hardship and poverty interwoven with the hopes, despair and sufferings of a Lancashire cotton mill family.
Philip Goulding’s earthy adaptation is part narrated by an octogenarian William (Kenneth Alan Taylor) who, when silent, overlooks events on stage from a balcony above – commencing appropriately enough with his birth in a cotton mill. Alison Hefferman’s permanent split-level, Toytown-styled set is wonderfully all-purpose for the multiple locations and allows instant changes.
Billy’s family are the heartbeat of the piece and their gatherings throughout, along with the rent-a-mob scenes, are highlights. There’s a hard-hearted Father (John Elkington), long-suffering Mother (Lisa Howard), frustrated eldest daughter Brenda (Jo Mousley) and her sister Jenny (Frances McNamee) – joined by young Billy (Adam Barlow) and his classmate Harold (Robin Simpson). All are uniformly excellent, in these and a host of other characters they play (along with Chris Chilton); Mousley and Simpson paint their numerous roles with vibrant colour, while Adam Barlow lends Billy endearing charm.
This is a stylised, rapid-fire production with strong physicality and a precision-honed satirical edge, a multitude of memorable characters, atmospheric choral accompaniment, and much more. There are shades of the Coliseum’s Travels With My Aunt and Bolton Octagon’s Accidental Death; as such it may have limited appeal to those seeking redemption via a classic staging of the book with nominal editing.
Yet there’s a seamless flow to the piece, a result of director, designer and adaptor working hand-in-hand from the outset, while the anonymous uniformity of excellent costumes allows the ten community actors to fully integrate and lend an epic feel.
By resisting overkill, the production tests the toughest audience member, who will struggle to prevent moist eyes.
Billy: Adam Barlow.
Patrick: Chris Chilton.
Father: John Elkington.
Mother: Lisa Howard.
Jenny: Frances McNamee.
Brenda: Jo Mousley.
Harold: Robin Simpson.
William: Kenneth Alan Taylor.
Director: Kevin Shaw.
Designer: Alison Heffernan.
Lighting: Thomas Weir.
Sound: Lorna Munden.
Musical Director: Howard Gray.