Sunday, October 2

Kofi Dennis takes a trip down the Road at Oldham Coliseum

Not many debut works are voted as one the best 50 British plays of all time, but anyone who has seen Lancashire playwright Jim Cartwright’s searing indictment of deprivation on one northern street in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain knows exactly why.

It’s still a powerful play that has been revived countless times. and now Oldham Coliseum are staging it starring Coronation Street legend Paula Lane, who was Kylie Platt in the Street, and ironically plays the equally feisty Lane in Road. She is joined by Coliseum regular Richard J Fletcher playing the well-oiled Scullery, who takes the audience on a riotous and ramshackle trip down the eponymous road.

It’s a road that could be anywhere in the north where there’s no jobs and little hope, which sadly sounds very familiar in foodbank Britain 2022, but there’s still a party to go to that’ll take you from the gutter to the stars and back again.

Kofi Dennis is a musical theatre rising star, but as he tells our Features Editor Paul Clarke he’s stepping out of his comfort zone to take on four of Cartwright’s richly drawn characters.

Tell me about Road?

Road is about real people in the late 1980s when times were just hard, especially up north. There was no work, no money and the north was forgotten about, it’s about these real lives that had to go through that under Margaret Thatcher’s rule. It’s just about deprivation, and at the time you thought that was the lowest it could get, but sadly I think things have got worse.

It’s a clever device as any street in the country has all sorts of people who are randomly thrown together only linked by bricks and mortar.

It’s interesting to see it all played out in rehearsals so on just one street you have different people who you wouldn’t necessarily think were from the same walks of life, but they are going through different things, whilst going through the same thing if that makes sense. That’s how it affects people, and their relationships differently, and at different stages.

Tell me about who you’re playing.

I’m playing four characters, which in itself has been a real challenge to multi-role as it’s such a real story so you want to make sure obviously at all times they are clear, but at the same time it needs to be real. My main character is Brink who is a young lad, him and Eddie are best friends. They go out all the time drinking with what money they can, and meet two girls, Carol and Louise. They come back and Carol and Louise think they’re a bit different 

How are they different?

They are all actually young, and all want something different, but they don’t realise it until it gets to a point where Carol goes on this massive rant saying all you boys want is basically sex, and I want something different.

What happens next?

Brink and Eddie open up for the first time and these four characters all deliver a monologue about what they’re got going on, what they want and how this world is kind of messed up and pushing down on them. They are the last characters you see in the play, and they start doing this chant ‘Somehow a somehow a somehow I might escape’. It feels like Cartwright is giving a glimpse of hope, as it feels like they’re not really any hope throughout the play at all until that last minute when they chant that together.

Actors are notorious for wanting to find what motivates their characters, but in this production you are having to do that four times, so how you are finding doing something that’s very different from most jobs.

I’m 100% enjoying it and it’s only now towards the end of week three of rehearsals that it feels like I’ve got it. You go on a journey with one character throughout a rehearsal process, so you’re going on these four different journeys with four different characters, and it has been a bit overwhelming at times.

What’s the trick to making that process work?

It’s about working with the physicality of the characters, really pushing them to be different through their voices, whether that is with accents or tones. I’ve had to work really hard, which is great as a lot of my career I’ve done musicals, so this has been a real push, and it feels like I’m learning so much.

It’s a strong cast, including Corrie legend Paula Lane, and her Weatherfield character the feisty Kylie Pratt could quite easily have been a Road resident.

Everyone is just so supportive, so it feels like one of those environments where you can learn, and you feel comfortable to do so. With some of the older members of the cast who have been in the industry for 30, 40 years I could sit and watch them all day, and you just feel you’re learning by doing that.

I think Jim Cartwright probably thought that Road was a searing indictment of inequality, and it couldn’t possibly get any worse in this country, yet it has for many people as they trudge down to the foodbanks.

It’s quite sad when you think about that, I think in essence it’s still happening now where poor people are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. There’s nothing being done to stop that and support people who have got less money.

This was Cartwright’s debut play, yet it has really stood the test of time as different generations of actors have taken it on.

There are so many older actors who I’ve spoken to who said ‘oh, you’re in Road’ that’s the play that I read that made me want to act. It’s true people will be coming to see this that lived though that time, and I think the language is so beautiful.

Why do you think Road really resonates with Northern audiences in places like Oldham where many people have known tough times.

I love Shakespeare, but at the same time you can often go to Shakespeare and you don’t feel represented as being from up north. It’s hard to access, but in this the language is beautiful so you can see yourself onstage. I feel like my voice is perfect for this, and I feel like there are people who I know that their story is being represented. So you feel included, which is part of the reason why Road has been so successful.

Road is at Oldham Coliseum from Friday 16th September to Saturday 1st October. To book 0161 6242829 or www.coliseum.org.uk

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