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The Long Road

by on 15 August 2019

Sharp and Edgy Theatre

The Long Road

by Shelagh Stephenson

St Michael’s Players at St Michael’s Centre, Chiswick until 16th August, then at the Edinburgh Fringe until 24th August

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Dan, a teenage boy, goes out in the evening with his older brother Joe. There is a small altercation with a young woman outside a shop, she stabs Dan and he dies quickly on the pavement, his brother Joe leaning over him. The Long Road opens with Joe’s dazed but graphic description of those events, and calls the audience to attention with a ferocity that continues throughout Shelagh Stephenson’s sharply written play.

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Over the course of the next eighty minutes, on a small set, efficiently lit and furnished with minimum scenery and props, five characters deal with the effects of this event. Dan’s grieving family veer off in different directions: his mother Mary struggles to understand; his father John wrestles with rage and distracts himself with running and then with alcohol. Dan’s brother Joe wonders whether he alone can be enough for his parents since Dan, he believes, was their favourite. Eventually Mary decides she wants to meet her son’s murderer and with the help of a counsellor she begins that process despite John’s objections.

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Shelagh Stephenson’s writing is pared down to the essential, it’s highly focussed with small details used to great effect. Elizabeth Ollier’s Mary describes the indentations of her late son’s feet in his shoes and says that she has told a university that he’ll be taking up the offer they made him. She’s not deluded, she’s pragmatic while lost in grief and all the more affecting because of it. LongRd3

Alistair Dewar’s John is a man well on the road to self-destruction until brought up sharply by his own actions. Dewar plays him as a human being, not always sympathetic in his rage, but still recognisable as ‘one of us’.

Louis Bricusse as the older son and now the only child, skilfully portrays the confusion of a young man burdened with guilt and grief and without the life experience to bolster him.


Fleur de Henrie Pearce is striking as the badly damaged Emma, Dan’s murderer, with a beautifully observed and crafted performance. This character’s constantly hyped, constantly moving, defensive-aggressive demeanour is a human powder keg, a woman to whom nothing has been given and from whom an awful lot has been taken. She’s the woman you walk through the train carriage to avoid.

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Into this festering mix, Elizabeth the psychologist arrives to take Mary and Emma possibly towards some sort of restorative justice. Leonia Chesterfield gives a suitably restrained performance as Elizabeth, again with attention to the small details, her momentary loss of control during her challenging interactions with Emma being highly effective because of its brevity.

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Though Emma’s dramatic trajectory is perhaps ultimately predictable and the play’s resolution a little too neat, this is not real life; it’s drama, and an exploration of the possible, so all bets are off and we are allowed to appreciate a little light at the end of a dark tunnel.

St Michael’s is high definition drama which ticks every box. Director and actors are completely in tune with their material and the material they have is high quality. My only disappointment was olive-related. The ‘olives exchange’ between various characters was a moment of gentle relief. I suspect there were others or rather I’m dimly aware that there were others but they weren’t as apparent as they could be. Humour is always present around death, however awful, and a peppering of it through the drama breaks the relentlessness and rounds the characters. That aside, this is an excellent piece of theatre very well presented. Highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
August 2019

Photography by Ian Trowbridge

From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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