Tobacco Road is an enthralling blood-soaked tale of five petty criminals who rise to the heights of crime lords (and ladies) following the end of World War I. Incognito Theatre Company and its amazing cast use physical choreography, raucous music and fine acting to tell the tale of the seedy and dangerous side of London’s underworld in the early part of the twentieth century.
The time is 1918 and Britain is reeling from the carnage of World War I. Families mourn the loss of husbands, sons and brothers killed on the Western Front, while an outbreak of Spanish Flu further decimates the British population. Amid the remnants of death and crippling unemployment, springs a murderous group of gangsters who carve up London’s East end into territories rife with drug dealing, prostitution and rigged boxing matches. Roaming the city’s dangerous streets are two feisty, opportunistic females, Frida Bow (Atlanta Hayward) and Elsie Murphy (Jennie Eggleton), who eke out a living as petty thieves with a penchant for the high life.
At the same time, three young toughs, tired of their meagre takings from street crime, wish to build a criminal empire. Tom Carlisle (Angus Castle-Doughty) as the pugilist member of the trio is the most sympathetic character, one with fierce integrity and a protective instinct towards Frida and Elsie. The gang sets up headquarters in a tobacco factory in London’s east end, hence its moniker as the feared and fearless, Tobacco Road Gang.
Tobacco Road is pure intrigue as a piece of physical theatre, especially with its ingenious use of bandages to create a boxing ring – a stunning visual which is reason enough to see this play. While four of the characters grip strips of bandage cloth, creating four taut corners, we see pugilist Tom weave and bob, and hit the canvas from all angles, but you’ll have to see the play to appreciate how the use of bandages can create this cinematic effect.
Where Tobacco Road lags is in its scripting, which offers dialogue that we’ve heard hundreds of times before. Perhaps we’ve been overly saturated with tales of the Kray brothers and Guy Ritchie’s east end movie gangsters. But in its pure physicality, the play is a rousing, raucous piece of ‘in yer face’ music-thumping theatre. Highly recommended.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Through explosive physical style, Tobacco Road tells the story of five resourceful young men and women attempting to carve out a place in the murky underworld of 1920’s London. In the wake of the Great War, can they find the fame and wealth they crave or will their desperate need to belong lead to disastrous consequences?
Incognito seek to explore the stories that have gone untold in many history books, from the day-to-day struggle of being a female gangster in a male-dominated world to the complex and impossible standards of masculinity. Tobacco Road is a magnified examination of the real people who had to forge a life for themselves in a world that had ignored them.
By shining a light on gang activity, this exciting production investigates how young people find themselves embroiled in gang culture and why people felt they had no other option but to go into crime.
Tom Carlisle: Angus Castle-Doughty
Frida Bow: Atlanta Hayward
Alfie Moss: Dan Whitlam
Felix Vance: George John
Elsie Murphy: Jennie Eggleton
Director: Roberta Zuric
Producer: Hannah Wisher
Stage Manager: Freya Jefferies
Choreographer: Zak Nemorin
Sound Designer: Oscar Macguire
Fight Choreographer: Lisa Connell
Poster and photography: Tim Hall
Booking to 17th February 2019