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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Bad Roads
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs   Autumn-Winter 2017

It is clear that Ukrainian playwright Natal'ya Vorozhbit intended Bad Roads to be a montage of the chaotic experience of civil war, particularly for women. 

But in this ponderous and rhythmless production it plays like a random collection of fragments from a half-dozen separate failed attempts at plays, with too little connection or cumulative effect, and much too little dramatic life. 

The play opens with a half-hour monologue by a woman filmmaker who followed a soldier around and eventually fell in love with him, despite knowing he was married and had several other women and despite the sex being pretty bad. 

It then moves to some teenage girls enjoying the attentions of soldiers, to soldiers harassing an innocent civilian partly out of nervousness and partly just because they can, to a female soldier transporting the body of an officer who was her lover, to a maddened soldier abusing and raping a woman who tries to find some humanity in him, and to a pre-war scene that shows things weren't all that civilised even then. 

We get the message, that men are brutalised by war and women victimised by it. But there is nothing particularly new, or unique to the Ukrainian experience here. And much worse, none of it comes alive theatrically. 

Small hints in the text can lead us to think that the filmmaker's lover might be the officer harassing the civilian and/or the dead man being transported, and the fact that they're played by the same actress might suggest that the woman soldier is one of the teenagers from the earlier scene. 

But nothing is made of these potential ironies, the characters are identified only as 'Girl 3', 'Soldier 2' and the like, and everyone in the cast of seven plays at least two roles, at least some of the doubling without any ironic or thematic significance. 

Director Vicky Featherstone perhaps deliberately makes no attempt to individualise the various characters, to make clear which side the various soldiers are on, or even to give much sense of time or place to the individual scenes. But if it was deliberate it was a mistake.

It is not the various actors' fault that the opening monologue seems to go on interminably or that we can't tell if we're meant to be seeing the same characters in different scenes, or even that we would have to remember a throw-away line from earlier to guess that the final scene is set before the war (as the published text spells out). 

The admirably dedicated cast work earnestly to make their individual scenes come alive and feel like parts of the same play. But they are given too little help by their playwright or their director, and the interval-less 100 minutes of Bad Roads feel a great deal longer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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