Clodagh Chapman reviews the Gloucester Road play, part of a student-led project bringing publicity and revenue to Bristol’s independent businesses and artists.
Theatre, especially student theatre, with any kind of social mission has long come under fire for supposedly being high and mighty, patronising and unnecessarily angsty. ‘Gloucester Road’, a play that is part of a wider project with the same name, completely blows this stereotype out of the water. The play aims to engage the Bristol population with the university’s thriving theatre scene and vice versa, and does a pretty exceptional job of it.
Against a backdrop of class divide and drug culture, ‘Gloucester Road’ tells the story of Fliss Nugent, a seamstress and shop owner. A piece of original writing by director Ben Bridson, the script seamlessly blends eras whilst managing to balance the, at times, heavy subject matter with genuine laugh-out-loud comedy. Bridson admirably weaves in incredibly well-written romance, and refreshingly accurate portrayals of relationships between the female characters. The subject of mental health is also touched on without portraying the characters as weak; all in all a glowing example of what a feminist piece of theatre should look like.
The cast themselves are without exception immensely talented, and have palpable energy throughout. Jude Mack as Fliss, and Ben Gosling as Greg have fantastic chemistry and, under the excellent direction of Bridson and co-director Phoebe Graham, perfectly encapsulate the awkwardness of the early stages of romance. Alice Hoskyns brings a genuine warmth to the play as Pam, whilst Ed Lees gives a memorable performance as James, the perpetrator in an all too familiar incident of sexual harassment.
Stitching together the whole story is a series of slick, bold movement sequences, gorgeously choreographed by Sam Williams and accompanied by Owain Astle’s absolutely stunning projections. Together and independently these were some of the highlights of the production, which was an absolute joy to watch.
In a nice nod to the wider ‘Gloucester Road’ project, there is a simple but effective verbatim section towards the end of the play featuring voiceovers from real Gloucester Road shopkeepers. However, this and the movement sequences felt like they could have been better integrated, with some of the transitions feeling slightly clunky.
Overall, ‘Gloucester Road’ is an incredibly engaging and ambitious piece of theatre pulled off by an extraordinary team of theatre makers. Whilst a little unpolished in places, it strikes a perfect balance of social commentary and humour, never feeling like it’s labouring one point too much, and gives what feels like a very honest depiction of Bristol over the past four decades. Genuinely touching without ever being over-sentimental, it was absolutely worth a watch.