“STRANGE THE ROAD” – The Hope Theatre, London Feb 2017
From the moment the audience enters this studio space at the Hope & Anchor Pub Theatre they are confronted with a display of violent hierarchy in a frozen tableau of the full cast. 1930s New York Gangster Malloy (Pat Koupland) at the centre, drink in hand aggressively keeping his subordinates Randall (Darren Paul McStay) and Hughie (Rikki Chamberlain) in check.
Separated by this melee stage right we see a waitress (Andromeda Godfrey) who we will later meet as Verda, and stage left we see Frenchie (Joey Ellis) leaning with an air of melancholy surrounding him. He is however the first to spring into life signifying the start of the play. This is his story. Ellis’ character takes relish in explaining his emotional turmoil at every opportunity. The audience in this intimate space clearly hang on his every word as he explodes into exposition. We witness Frenchie falling in love with Verda who works at the club that these gangsters hang out at but he is Malloy’s driver and he has his aggressive sight set Verda, as does Randall. (Godfrey and McStay clearly enjoy playing Verda and Randall with verve and style). Wonderful subplots involving Randall and Hughie keep the audience on their toes as they flip between hilarious childhood buddies and ugly underworld villains.
This play is so well written by writer director Lil Warren. Every character brought to life from their opening frozen state are well rounded and immediately endeared by the audience without cliches attached. The carefully crafted black humour is immensely enjoyable and the staging within the space is sometimes intimate as characters plot secretly upstage then other times the audience are jolted back in their seats as characters are attacked. Lil Warren has achieved something wonderful with a very strong cast in this small space. I hope that one day STRANGE THE ROAD will be given the opportunity to spread its wings in a larger auditorium.