Mike Kenny’s spirited adaptation of Siobhan Dowd’s novel, Solace of The Road, moves between happiness and hardship with authenticity, wit and a delicacy to be admired. An audience are invited along with almost-15-year-old Holly Hogan who leaves her foster home behind as she embarks on a road trip across England to find her mother. Urged forward by her brave and outspoken alter ego, Solace, who materialises from a blonde wig and a stolen dress, she makes her long journey across the country and in and out of her own memories, slowly unlocking the hidden moments from her past that she had previously chosen to forget. As more and more memories are brought to the surface, it transpires that Holly is perhaps not as reliable a narrator as it would seem, becoming apparent that her recounted journey was always more about finding herself than her mother.
Sarah Brigham directs this colourful retelling, suspended between the genuine compassion and the frightening cruelty of the world, alike to Holly herself, suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Pieces of set are wheeled on or off or they drop down from above and drawers inside the set are opened and closed throughout the piece; a powerful aesthetic, vividly reminiscent of a children’s storybook and symbolic of the fragmented way in which we choose to remember, or indeed to forget.
Rebecca Ryan is a nuanced, brisk and sincerely childlike Holly Hogan and the multi-rolling of her supporting cast is achieved with energy and humour, Neal Craig with a particularly standout performance. The company feels like a well-tuned ensemble, drifting between characters fluently to keep up to pace with Holly’s swiftly developing recollections.
Whilst the play is spoken with the frankness of a child’s voice, at times there was an over-exposed tone to the narration where perhaps the novel’s style crept into the playtext too closely and the action could certainly have benefited from less to be told and more to be seen, not underestimating the imagination of its audience. The play is also certainly more affecting for a younger generation with eyes more closely attuned to the world on stage – a group of Year Nines in the audience were audibly moved by the courage and imagination of the story. For those a few years older, it was hard not to recall Jacqueline Wilson’s infamous Tracy Beaker and recognise the story, anticipating where it may travel and unravel.
That said, the innate sense of familiarity also highlights how many more stories there have been like this one and just how many more are left to tell. What perhaps makes Solace of the Road a particularly tender play is the crucial input of real stories and experiences of young people in care, which informed the making of the piece. This play is particularly relevant at the current time, when distressing experiences of the UK’s care system have been brought to the forefront by brave individuals, speaking up for a better future by recollecting pasts that they would rather forget. Solace of the Road presents a distinctly more positive experience of the care system and whilst Holly’s story is by no means a happy one, the play remains uplifting, redemptive and from the darker elements of Holly’s journey there emerge some real moments of light.
Solace of the Road is playing at Derby Theatre until 14 March. For more information and tickets, see the Derby Theatre website. Photo by Robert Day.