THE LONG ROAD
by Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by Richard Croxford
Lighting Design: Keith Ginty
Sound Design: Michael Harpur
Costume Design: Pat Musgrave
The Naughton Studio, The Lyric Theatre, Belfast.
(14th October 2012)
Just weeks after the PSNI revealed that knife crime has increased by 13% in the last five years, The Long Road by Shelagh Stephenson opens in the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. It was a similar increase in knife attacks in London that inspired Stephenson to write the play.
Stephenson linked up with the Forgiveness Project – a charity dealing with conflict resolution, reconciliation and victim support. Through this relationship, Stephenson had direct contact with victims and perpetrators. The result is a meticulously researched and well constructed script. She depicts a family’s inability to forgive a unrepentant murder who is profoundly damaged herself through a troubled upbringing.
Each member of the Pritchard family bare their souls and hearts throughout the play – their suffering is shared, but expressed differently. Brendan Fleming portrays a damaged, introverted father who uses whisky to heal the pain and retreats to his garden shed for escape. Chris McCurry’s dejected Joe accepts his status as the less loved son but his inner turmoil of cradling his dying brother, as blood spreads ‘like a big red chrysanthemum’, haunts him constantly. Shelagh O’Kane depicts a damaged mother, devastated after her son’s tragic death, slowly realising that forgiveness of Daniel’s killer is the only path to healing.
Thanks to the help of a sympathetic prison visitor, Elizabeth (Jo Donnelly), Mary visits her sons killer to discover why she did it and assess the chances of forgiveness. A boastful, arrogant Emma (Bernadette Brown) parades the stage claiming to have been hooked ‘on everything from the age of eight’. We learn small fragmented stories (mostly lies) of her troubled childhood that led her to murder. Brown’s powerful portrayal of Emma is remarkable, so much so that it is necessary to step back and remember the horrific and completely random crime that she has committed before we grow to like her.
Richard Croxford’s direction is very controlled allowing Stephenson’s poetically heightened language to hit the mark every time and take centre stage. ‘Sheep counting for the bereaved’ and ‘squatting in our family like a cuckoo’ are two examples of a script overflowing with imagery and metaphors. However it is Stephenson’s affecting soliloquies that open and close the show that showcase her prowess as a writer. Croxford invites us to live the family’s tragedy with them by creating one room which acts as the Pritchard’s living room and the prison meeting room. The empty, sparse stage amplifies that the audience are not spectators but close knit-confidants. The soundtrack of Ludovico Einaudi’s ‘Andare’, interweaves between scenes beautifully, heightening the cinematic, voyeuristic component to this production.
The Long Road offers a truthful discourse on grief, damage and forgiveness. Stephenson offers a powerful, illuminating piece of dramatic fiction revealing how a family survives the death of a loved one. No one could pretend this is an easy play to watch but the Lyric’s production reminds us that in forgiving others, we may redeem ourselves.