We arrive at the venue of 'The D Road' (written by Deborah McAndrew) on a very rainy Saturday afternoon with no idea of what the play is going to be about and if we are even going to enjoy it. None of us have ever really been to a play in such an unusual, unconventional setting before and we don’t know what to expect. Spode Works (the venue) represents the pottery industry, something so integral to the culture and history of Stoke and for that we are definitely curious and excited to experience something so relevant to our local community.
As soon as we set foot in the building we’re welcomed with a warm reception of friendly faces, kind staff that greet us and make us feel at home. This atmosphere from the people and the amazing location we’re in sets the scene for the play which follows themes of family, love and pride of place. The audience's comfort and enjoyment are made priority; our group is given front row seats to suit my neighbour's difficulty with walking up stairs. This is a prime example of just nurturing everyone is and how much thought and consideration has gone in to make sure everyone has a good time.
‘The D Road’ is a play about a grandma with dromophobia (fear of roads); her grandson who lives with her and looks after her; his girlfriend who deeply desires to move away and start anew and a fraudulent archaeologist who senses Roman artefacts close by. The main action of the play takes place in an untouched, solitary house somewhere along the A500 D road. The plot line focuses on the antics of the archaeologist and his discoveries, while Pam (the grandma) suffers from her debilitating, constrictive condition. Amidst a repartee of observational humour, the play uncovers moral dilemmas within family life and raises thought-provoking questions about Stoke itself: how has it changed and how is it seen by the people of today? Some people take pride in the city and some people see it as nothing but a dump. The motif of roads (in particular the D road) crops up consistently throughout the play. In McAndrew’s words, ‘the A500 seems to embody so much of the North Staffordshire story. Its social and economic history, its culture, the huge changes that have taken place in the loss of industries and communities. It’s a key part of modern life in the city – the route to everywhere, the way in and the way out.’
'The D Road' is a fantastic play that incorporates so much incredible artistry through its writing, acting, directing, set design, costume design, sound, choreography, composing, dancing and singing. So many carefully considered ingredients make it spectacular! Some of these elements are based even in the entrance to the building. As you walk through the door, you are met by real cars in a traffic jam and familiar road signs against the age-old brickwork of Spode. Small scenes of realistic conversation and road-rage arguments play out in amongst the cars while the audience are seated. This innovative, unexpected, immersive theatre attributes to an exciting atmosphere; you feel transported to the busy road and are already captivated with the story.
The play is quite like a play I've seen before called 'Anna of Five Towns' performed at the New Vic theatre in Newcastle. (Funnily enough, some of the cast and crew from 'The D Road' have been involved with past productions at the New Vic as well!) Similarly, this play heralds and embodies Stoke’s culture and is successful in using recognisable references (for humorous effect) to places, phrases, food and situations often associated with city. This accurate use of observational comedy, in the writing, makes both plays extremely relatable and engaging because the audience can identify with the humour in their own lives. Additionally, the characters in the cast actually bare resemblance to my own family. The characters Liam and Pam act and talk like my own brother and Nana (from Stoke) which only makes them more realistic and lovable; the audience become attached with the personalities of the characters because their traits are so beautifully familiar from those of their own loved ones.
One thing I thought 'The D Road' play does more effectively than 'Anna of Five Towns' is show varying perceptions of Stoke from different age groups. We went to see 'The D Road' - three generations - and we all came away having related to something. The eldest of the cast reflects on Stoke from years ago and misses its charm and sense of community. This rung true with my parents and my neighbour however I related more with Liam who likes the city the way it is and wishes everyone would stop going on about how life was so much better before (a time he wasn't there to experience). I feel the play’s characters are so realistic and comparable to the people of Stoke-On-Trent. McAndrew has captured – quite wonderfully- the essence of people in the city.
So, what can you learn from the play? I’ve learnt to embrace change but always keep a sense of community. This is construed through the whole production: the friendly Claybody group, the cultural venue and the performance itself. Not only this, but the play has taught me to be proud of the place I live in.
It’s definitely a play worth seeing; it is so relevant for today’s opinionated, conflicting society. It really makes you think and question how you view the city. The play encapsulates poignancy within family and relationships. It also creates humour: so many laughs along the way. With innovative set and costume and music and lighting it really is a diverse piece of entertainment; there’s something that everyone can enjoy.
‘The D Road’ made a rainy, wet, miserable day a whole lot sunnier!