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The D Road – Claybody Theatre, Stoke

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In the heart of the community in Stoke, a former pot bank (that is fast becoming an excellent multi-purpose venue) has once again been transformed into a working theatre space by the creative team at Claybody Theatre. This, their third transformation of Spode Works in as many years is once again, a new play, inspired by and set in the local area.

The play follows Pam and her grandson Liam, local residents who have lived their entire lives in the home where scene play is set. The house narrowly escaped demolition when the A500 (known locally as “the D road”) and subsequently, they have had the City’s busiest road at the end of their garden for over 50 years.

To make matters worse, Pam is petrified of roads. Liam takes care of his grandmother and tries to get her out more often, whilst his girlfriend Lois tries to entice him to the bright lights of Manchester. When archaeologist Marcus arrives at the home in search of treasure, the play becomes particularly interesting and ridiculously entertaining.

Playwright Deborah McAndrew, who moved to the area in 2001 has certainly found her inspiration here and her love for her home city is sprinkled throughout the production. Stoke-on-Trent has a unique dialect and vocabulary to some extent – certainly common sayings and behaviours that are captured wonderfully in a detailed and thoughtful script.

According to the programme, McAndrew is interested in the mythology of the A500 – which sounds crazy, but as the deep-rooted themes of the play seep through, the D-road becomes a metaphor for more than just a way in and out of Stoke on Trent.

We have all heard of the Staffordshire Hoard and popped into the Potteries Museum for a quick look – but this play unearths so much more. Crammed with intricate storytelling, the show explores the many interesting aspects of the local area from archaeological finds in Lightwood to evidence of Romans roads – even natives will leave having learnt more about the history of Stoke on Trent!

Claybody’s vibrant community company flood the entire theatre space with drama before the play even begins, drifting in and out of real parked cars in a traffic jam that make up the parameter and backdrop of the action. A bright colourful musical number by Scott Ralph about the familiar D-road traffic jam opens the play, with many pertinent local references.

Angela Bain returns to familiar surroundings to play Pam, Liam’s Nana. She is excellent in her portrayal of a born and bred Stokie lass who was here before the D-road, and has been forced to watch the landscape of her beloved City change around her as a result. Ultimately Pam’s story is one of loneliness, of a way of life that is becoming an increasingly distant memory and the physical and psychological result of that on the older residents of this city.

Honorary Stokie Michael Hugo will be a familiar face for many audience members, having been a New Vic and Northern Broadsides regular for many years. When Hugo is playing the comedy role you can guarantee you are in for an evening of quality entertainment. His portrayal of ‘Professor’ Marcus was equally comical and sophisticated, and most of the interesting facts about the history of Stoke come from his dialogue.

What was particularly wonderful was to see Jack Wilkinson of Stoke on Trent as local lad Liam, totally believable in a fantastic portrayal of a young man torn between following Lois played by Riana Duce to Manchester or staying behind to look after his Nana who barely sets foot out of the house.

The show is perfectly reflective of the various attitudes in Stoke on Trent and the stories from the older generations that this was once a great place to be – from those who perhaps believed that the industry, the potteries and the coal mines would have been there forever.

Conrad Nelson directs a funny and sharp performance, which all takes place in Pam’s living room. Dawn Allsopp has crafted a simple yet elegant set which includes road signs, vehicles and a window out on to Spode’s very own D-road.

Stokies must see this show – whether you can’t wait to leave or you think it’s the best city on earth, this play will make you proud to be from Stoke on Trent.

The D Road plays Spode Works, Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday 26th October 2019. To book tickets, click here.