"Life on Salford's Dark Streets"
by James McKendrick for remotegoat on 25/08/16

Written by Nick Brown, Mercy Road draws on the author’s time spent working in support of drug addicts and sex workers in Camden to conjure an unflinching story of resilience in the face of adversity. He describes it as “a work of fiction interwoven with autobiographical detail”.

The piece begins with Loz (Claire Lloyd) entering the back room of a Salvation Army soup kitchen in a slightly hysterical state somewhere between uncontrollable sobbing or laughter (it turns out to be the latter). She is joined by Sharon (Darrie Gardner) who runs the centre which acts as a haven for Salford’s sex workers and drug addicts (there being a high degree of crossover between the two).

It transpires that Sharon has helped Loz escape from a life on the game and on crack and that Loz now supports her in her work as well as acting as a role model for the working girls by demonstrating a potential escape from life on the streets. Right from the off the banter between these two fizzes with a slick wit – sometimes perhaps a little too slick to be entirely plausible. However, the performances and onstage chemistry between Lloyd and Gardner evoke a genuine intimacy and affection which underpins the playful bickering between the two.

No sooner is this relationship established, but the audience are thrown a curve ball with the appearance of a mysterious intruder (Declan Cooke) who arrives while Sharon has fallen asleep at her desk. Initially confronting him with a baseball bat, she eventually recognises him as Bobby, a former partner from her youth. For his part, Bobby seems unsure as to quite how he arrived there, but it emerges that he is there to make his peace with Sharon for the way he treated her when they were together.

Gardner and Cooke render the uneasy chemistry between the two former lovers in a way that is touching without ever being sentimental and the way that even with the best of intentions they can fall back into familiar patterns of argument and miscommunication is totally convincing.

Being presented as part of the Camden Fringe, the play is bursting with more ideas and themes than it can develop in a one act format, although Antony Hampton’s kinetic direction ensures that the piece packs a powerful punch for its length. The piece has the potential to be developed further and it would have been interesting to include a character who was still working on the streets on stage, rather than to hear their misery related by others.

However, all told Mercy Road is a piece that is incredibly well written, directed and performed and is among the best shows that you will see on the Fringe (Camden or Edinburgh) right now.

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