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Guest Blog: Actor Zoe Iqbal on Recognising the Forgotten Working Class in ROAD at the Oldham Coliseum

The proud northerner talks about the resilience and strength in Jim Cartwright's writing

Guest Blog: Actor Zoe Iqbal on Recognising the Forgotten Working Class in ROAD at the Oldham Coliseum

Everyone remembers the first time they discovered Road. I was 17, just started college. No connections to the industry at all. I'd hear the names of playwrights in lessons and didn't have a clue who these people were. I'd go to the library and just read plays.

I was stunned when I read Road, Two and The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. What a treat! But also I really didn't know that there were plays about working class people. People I know, people I see. The raw honesty about life and humanity laced with humour. 17-year-old me thought I wasn't 'posh' enough to be in this industry but reading Jim's words, I thought maybe there is a place for someone like me.

Many actors / writers have a similar story and hold Jim's plays very close to their hearts.

Road is set in 1987. Post Thatcher, no jobs, shops boarded up, not much money about, homelessness on the rise. Sound familiar? When I first read Road I felt the magic and the humour of the characters. I don't know what this says about me, but I loved the swearing and the openness when talking about sex. But I was also struck by wanting to escape. Re-reading it now in my thirties with more life experience and cynicism, I have been enveloped by the grimness surrounding these characters.

Guest Blog: Actor Zoe Iqbal on Recognising the Forgotten Working Class in ROAD at the Oldham Coliseum
Zoe Iqbal & Alyce Liburn in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Chris Payne Photography

Our director Gitika Buttoo made it a focal point to look for the nuances and layers, because many people have so much on their plate but these characters really do crack on with life despite living through desperate times. There is a resilience and strength that makes me proud to be a northerner. But this could be any forgotten town. There are many places up and down the country where I poke my head out of the window and see a slice of Road unapologetically being played out right before my eyes.

At the first read-through I loved seeing everyone's beginnings of characters come through. We were also struck by how unfair and grim some people's lives are, but also how people do just crack on. Despite bleakness, people fight to survive and live some sort of life. One of my favourite parts of rehearsals is when we discuss the characters and why they do what they do. Questioning everything. It's all well and good prepping as much as you can, but for me, getting out of my head and discussing what's happening in rehearsals moves me forward.

At the time of writing this we are at week three of rehearsals. We have been chucked in the deep end with stagger-throughs, which are initially scary but actually help us find the bits that need looking at again or the bits that have gone out of my head. I keep getting engrossed in what's happening on stage. The cues are setting into my head now.

Jim wastes no words at all. Every reaction, movement, sound. There are named parts but really we are all part of an ensemble. Here are some of my favourite lines from the play:

LANE: Life's a spree ...Me and Dor we get our mouth round life and have a chew. Sometimes there's nowt, sometimes its sloppy but we keep on snoggin' through.

LOUISE: I want magic and miracles. I want a Jesus to come and change things again and show the invisible....

If I keep shouting somehow a somehow I might escape.

We are in a forgotten Lancashire town. But this is not a forgotten play, it's relevant today. Life goes on.

Zoe Iqbal plays Louise in Road at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre, running from 16 September - 1 October.

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Guest Blog: Actor Zoe Iqbal on Recognising the Forgotten Working Class in ROAD at the Oldham ColiseumGuest Blog: Actor Zoe Iqbal on Recognising the Forgotten Working Class in ROAD at the Oldham Coliseum
September 16, 2022

Everyone remembers the first time they discovered Road. I was 17, just started college. No connections to the industry at all. I’d hear the names of playwrights in lessons and didn’t have a clue who these people were. I’d go to the library and just read plays.