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Theatre Review: Tobacco Road @ Pleasance Theatre

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 This explosive piece of physical theatre throws us back to 1920’s London, where gangsters rule, and the route to success for many goes hand in hand with living the life of a criminal.

The actors of Incognito Theatre company, directed by Roberta Zuric, deliver this high-paced piece with vigour and commitment. As Tobacco Road begins, we are thrown directly into the peak of the action, where we meet the gangster crew Tobacco Road. Each of the five members are standing on a retro box, these boxes being the only things on set, pointing imaginary guns out towards the audience.

Then the play quickly shifts back in time to 6 years earlier when the group was formed. This takes us back to when the two sneaky ladies Frida and Elsie (Atlanta Hayward and Jennie Eggleton) framed a local group of petty criminals Tommy, Felix and Alfie (Angus Castle-Doughty, George John and Alex Maxwell) for a crime the girls have committed, and by remarkable coincidences, the two groups ends up teaming up, forming the gang of Tobacco Road.

The source of inspiration is clearly the TV show Peaky Blinders, but the ensemble does this justice by committing fully to the characters, the physical changes and the journey of the play. An especially well-performed physical scene is a boxing match, where the ensemble creates a very believable boxing ring, with two pieces of string and some very coordinated movement.

Tobacco Road is a fast and furious piece and the first section of the drama is very plot driven. The ensemble paints a clear picture of post-WW1 London, naming real known criminals of the time and telling the story of the great rise of the new gang’s imperium.

Unfortunately, the build-up, though really interesting and committed, takes up too much time. This means that the shift in narrative style, the fall of the gang and the emotional changes impacting on the characters become very rushed.

When the play shifts from being plot driven to character driven, the audience hasn’t had a chance to form an emotional connection with most of the characters, and the sudden change in them seems too quick to be believable.

This is a shame as the ensemble delivers some notable acting performances. Especially the two new comers in the company, Hayward and Eggleton, who are engaging and hilarious in their portrayals of the two rough women, rising in power, in an underworld mostly dominated by men.

All in all, this is a very entertaining and well performed piece, but some tidying up of the script is needed to get the last missing clarity for it to reach its full potential.

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