Writer: Sharon Clark
Director: Kate Hewitt
Designer: Conor Murphy
Music: Timothy X Atack
Reviewer: Leah Tozer
It’s late. We’re walking into a snow-covered scene, carrying a rose to ‘pay our respects’. We are greeted by rows of radios that remind us of gravestones that we pick up and put around our necks – and just like that, in walking from one room to another, Raucous’ Ice Road has taken us back in time and into a war-torn Russia. But, this impressively immersive performance really begins in the bar beforehand. With propaganda posters plastering the walls and lights flickering in their lanterns – and after a shot of vodka (when in Russia!) – three orphans, Leah, Tati, and Zoya, move amongst us, mouthing-off in Russian, attempting to find the missing Kub. After leading us by lantern into the performance space, the story follows their survival in a volatile landscape, and just what we’ll sacrifice for warmth in the winter and refuge from war, from a flute to your fellow man.
Raucous has chosen the vast, cavernous Jacob’s Wells Baths in Bristol to tell this story of survival, and they use every inch of it: a structure of scaffolding and stepladders stretches to the ceiling, propaganda posters fall, seemingly, from the sky, there’s snow underfoot, and even the walls have a part to play. Everything about this production works like a well-oiled war-machine, from Ben Pacey’s atmospheric lighting to Timothy X Atack’s score that moves from ambient to ambush in a blink, to the literal writing on the walls from Limbic Cinema that are seared seamlessly onto Leah’s skin. The storytelling, like the production design, is also deceptively simple: the actors speak Russian for only a few sentences, but the effect is transformative. Kub plays at being an orchestral conductor that’s paralleled when planes fly overhead; there crashes and flashes a crescendo conducted by another playing their part in an orchestra of warfare, and those radios around our necks crackle with white noise and whispers that create a sense of the world outside the room while simultaneously immersing us in it.
With a cast of four, Ice Road’s actors may be few, but they are a force. Heledd Gwynn’s red-haired Leah has an iron-like resilience, from venturing out alone every night to provide for her friends, to telling them stories of a folkloric past to pass the time, to stitching up their festering wounds with a needle and thread. As the cussing, cutting Tati, Elin Phillips cuts to the bone of their condition with a darkly comic touch: freezing, famished, and afraid, she’s the blunt, brazen, body-burying realist that realises they’ll have to make sacrifices if they’re to survive. As Zoya and Kub, the youngsters of the group, Roanna Lewis and Alex York don’t let us forget that it’s children we are watching. Caught up in a war they have no interest in winning, only outliving, their innocence and honesty is contrasted against the cruelty of evading death as Zoya dreams of being killed by her own kin and Kub admits he found sustenance that he didn’t share.
The harrowing and heartrending ending is heightened with the writing on the wall: this tale was inspired by real stories of survival, in all its resilience and ruthlessness, and this raw realism is at the heart of this truly impressive, immersive, and emotive performance.
Runs until 19 November 2017 | Image: Contributed