Review: Yellow Breck Road at the Royal Court Theatre

By Nigel Smith

FOLLOWING last year’s success with Miracle on Great Homer Street, author Gerry Linford and director Bob Eaton have produced another thoughtful comedy play, which sits well with the Royal Court’s house style of local humour and provides a great vehicle for a cast of familiar faces.

In Yellow Breck Road, The Wizard of Oz collides with It’s a Wonderful Life and A Matter of Life and Death. It finds multiple members of one family examining past events that have shaped their lives, and re-evaluating what really matters to them. Our heroine Dot (Gemma Brodrick) lives with her mum and dad, Carol and Billy, her nan Nora and her happy go lucky uncle Barry, who tries to be helpful by turning the house into a death-trap with his DIY antics.

Dot has anxiety issues, so when her parents suddenly announce an impromptu holiday she doesn’t mind cancelling her planned trip to Ibiza to look after her nan who’s recovering from a fall. A dispute with their conniving landlord Harry threatens to upset all their plans, but when Dot grabs for a light switch rewired by her uncle Barry she suddenly finds she’s not in Anfield anymore.

Olivia du Monceau’s clever set takes us back 50 years to the first moon landing, and Dot begins a dream-world adventure in which she unravels the family’s past that ultimately leads to life-changing revelations for everyone.

Yellow Breck Road wears its heart (and various other internal organs) brazenly on its sleeve. The narrative has some important messages to deliver, including mental health issues, the importance of family and the #MeToo movement, although it tries a little too hard at times to press them home.

Brodrick’s Dot is played with complete conviction despite the fantastic nature of the story. Lynn Francis and Paul Duckworth deliver great comedy as her down-on-luck parents, especially when the clock is turned back to their childhood. Jake Abraham propels the tale along with charm and wit as uncle Barry, and Jamie Greer manages to be almost as unpleasant in his childhood version of Harry as he clearly became later in life as a money grabbing property owner.

Harry’s monstrous scheme may come as little surprise in the somewhat predictable storyline, but it’s Eithne Browne’s Nora who really pulls a rabbit out of the theatrical hat to surprise the audience in the closing scenes.

The dialogue is mostly tamer than usual for the Royal Court, scoring just 2 on their “Can I Bring My Gran-o-meter”, so it’s a little ironic that most of the lavatorial humour vents forth from the onstage Nan. Her verbal incontinence seems almost more severe than that which keeps her running up and down stairs so much, and a point is reached halfway through the first act when the joke is wearing a bit thin. Browne has the mastery of delivery that enables her to get away with it, but (note to the scriptwriter) she really is funny enough to raise a laugh without quite this many graphic descriptions of her bowel movements.

What matters most, though, is that the audience genuinely connect with the show. It’s clear from the very audible reactions to the story’s twists and turns that it has relatable material that reaches out to its viewers, and the cast enjoy a good feedback of positive energy from the auditorium.

Yellow Breck Road continues at the Royal Court until 2nd March.