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First Night: The Long Road

Published 11 November 2008

The collision of two lives, once totally unrelated and unknown to each other, can have truly catastrophic results, binding the pair together in an unexpected and painful way. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience of The Long Road at the Soho theatre to witness the aftermath of one family’s tragedy.

When 20 year old Joe entered a shop in Soho to buy cigarette papers, he witnessed his younger brother Dan crumple to the floor outside, a girl with black eyes staring at him, knife in hand, before continuing to walk down the street. As people stepped over his body and walked into bars, Joe cradled Dan as he died. This horrific event is the starting point to a play about the path the family left behind were then forced to follow.

Mother, father and remaining son each speak directly to the audience telling them of their initial thoughts and feelings. Joe coping with the guilt of having been present at his death but unable to save him, his father John pounding the streets every night obsessively running or drinking when he can’t leave the house, and mother Mary, who has to deal with the fact that the murder of her son has turned her into a murderer in her mind, only finding relief when imagining what she would do to Emma Price, the 18 year old girl who took Dan’s life, if she were ever in the same room. Defensive and fantastical, Emma too is allowed to voice her thoughts to the audience, her tough exterior contrasting with the family’s intense vulnerability.

It is Mary’s struggle to understand how such a thing could have happened at the hands of such an ordinary looking girl that once again throws the family’s lives out of control. With every fault line within the family now visible, the only place Mary can seek peace is with Emma, the girl whose presence has forcibly taken Dan’s place in their home. Tracking down Elizabeth, a woman who works with prisoners, she seeks to find some level of humanity in her son’s killer, eventually finding herself face to face with Emma.

The Long Road’s set consists simply of a set of table and chairs at each end of the stage, representing the family home and the prison, leaving nothing to distract you from the character’s anguish and pain. Behind Emma sits a huge photo of Dan that, when you look closer, is made up of postage stamp sized images of Emma, cementing their strange eternal unity as a result of their one and only encounter.

The Long Road is produced by the Synergy Theatre Project in association with The Forgiveness Project. The first takes plays into prisons in an attempt to help prisoners deal with the crimes they have committed and aid rehabilitation. The Forgiveness Project aims to help people come to terms with atrocities committed against them so that they might find some peace. The heart of both projects runs strongly through this play, showing how healing, as well as torturous, the process of forgiveness and understanding can be.

Heartbreaking and undoubtedly tragic, The Long Road takes a hard and unsettling subject and forces the audience to view it from all sides. Although the conclusion is immensely uplifting, the play acknowledges that in the face of such sadness and pain, there can never be any easy answers.

CM

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