Having previously tackled Greek myths and self-devised theatre, Lies, Lies and Propaganda (LLP) have decided to tackle a completely scripted piece for their latest production, but I’m not sure it is the right vehicle to showcase their strengths, as individuals and as theatre-making collective. Sheila Callaghan’s Roadkill Confidential is the story of Trevor, a successful artist with a penchant for roadkill victims, whose latest work becomes a matter of national importance and the subject of a top-secret investigation when citizens start dying. While Callaghan’s play purports to ask the question ‘can art truly be dangerous, or is it only true when it is,’ it ultimately doesn’t quite reach the searing heights it sets out to investigate, and leaves us feeling left on the shoulder of the road one too many times.
Staged on a bare concrete-slab type set swathed in clear plastic sheeting, director Michael Dean and designer Catherine Steele have created a fluid and malleable space capable of being anything from a kitchen, a lab, a morgue, an artist’s studio, an apartment, a garden… Richard Neville’s lighting pulses with a heartbeat, flashes in bright fluorescence, and uses colour to effectively break up the interrogative brightness. Benjamin Garrard’s music and composition keeps everything together and lends the scenes a sense of urgency which might otherwise be lacking.
There is nothing in Michael Dean’s production to suggest this disconnection – or lack of any real connection at all – is the result of the director’s work, or that of the actors. Rather, it seems to come from the script, a script which doesn’t have much in the way of dramatic structure, purpose, or build – tension is hinted at but barely used; there are little or no stakes for the characters, as they never seem to develop or grow; despite the cast’s best efforts, there is no real connection or identification with the characters, nor any reason to want to do so. There’s also a rather important question at the play’s heart which is never quite unpicked – is the Agent’s interest in Trevor because of her supposed usage of a biological weapon in her artwork? Is Trevor the creator of this biological weapon outside of the military? Are the reported deaths across the city the result of Trevor’s artwork, or is it a government experiment gone rogue? Are these facts at all linked, or are they just red herrings in Callaghan’s play, MacGuffins, if you’d like? Does any of this really matter? (We’re none the wiser by the end of the play, and we perhaps don’t really care much by then either…)
Dean’s cast of five work hard to make the play come alive. Alison Bennett’s Trevor is exasperated and determined, at times distracted yet nonetheless alert; Sinead Curry’s Melanie is a hyperactive talkative neighbour, yet there is a tangible loneliness underneath her persistent intrusion into Trevor’s house and life. Michael Drysdale’s Agent is focused and “patriotic” (as he frequently tells us), but there is also something ruthless about him, that he will not stop for anything or anyone in the name of his job. Jasper Garner Gore’s William is distant and aloof, insulated (and perhaps isolated) from the outside world by his work as a lecturer and art critic/theorist, but even he can’t deny the importance of what Trevor is up to. Nathaniel Scotcher brings a Tigger-like energy to his roles as Randy and Frizzy-haired Man, and there’s something almost endearing about his sometimes volatile outbursts. Like his cast, Dean has worked hard to try and make Callaghan’s play move dramatically, and there are a number of lovely group movement sequences (courtesy of Amanda Laing) which amplify Dean’s group dynamic. The fluidity of the staging helps to inject a sense of propulsion into the proceedings, though it only heightens the fact the script doesn’t really do any of the work itself.
As the latest in a string of productions, Roadkill Confidential shares LLP’s visual flair and strong performances, but the script does not do them any favours. While it – by its own admission – “attempts to tackle, with style, humor and high theatricality, mediated violence and the numbness it produces, and, whether in art or in global politics, the ends can justify the means,” I don’t think Roadkill Confidential comes anywhere near justifying its means, as a script. Dean’s production helps to disguise this somewhat, but Callaghan’s play leaves us lying in the middle of the road one too many times…