Trafalgar Studios, London (****)

© Oliver Rosser, James Cartwright (Shane)

© Oliver Rosser, James Cartwright (Shane)

As of old, Jim Cartwright’s Raz packs a punch. `Out on the raz’, `getting hammered’, `Friday night is binge night’, they certainly know how to do it `up North’ if Cartwright’s racey homage to an end-of-week night out is anything to go by.

Mind you, I was completely fooled to begin with. Photo on the front of the programme of muscular chap, bare broad shoulders and elite sun ‘specs had me thinking, it’s that Mark Foster or Ian Thorpe. It’s going to be about swimming.

Nah. Wrong. That’s just our Shane, `tanning’ up, preparing for blast off.

Cartwright of course was the Bolton reared writer who stole the show in 1986 with Road, that rolling, raging epitaph to Thatcher’s unemployed Britain who’s gone on to become a multi-award winning playwright in all spheres.

Thirty years on, Road wouldn’t look that out of place now. A lethally sad state of the nation portrait of then, in a strange complementary way, Raz similarly describes Britain now, a place of lost youth, mis-spending their evenings geting high on alcohol and drugs because `they’ve nothing else to do’. Unemployment still stalks the land up North, more even than down here in the spoilt South.

&copy, Oliver Rosser, James Cartwright (Shane)

&copy, Oliver Rosser,
James Cartwright (Shane)

And as a writer, Cartwright has moved on, his politics cleverly disguised inside a bravura narration of the evening by one Shane (Cartwright’s son James, award-winning tv regular and PC Burns in The Archers). Cartwright senior’s true colours only begin to sneak out towards the end.

A lament in all its gross, puke-levelled, psychedelic and grubby sex detail stunningly delivered as a multi-hued, hugely entertaining hour’s long solo, at the end, in the early hours, Shane climbs the hill and looks down on his town – and weeps.

Inevitably, in style, richness and timbre of language, its Edinburgh premiere has already drawn parallels with Under Milk Wood and Clockwork Orange. To that you might add Trainspotting and Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, so livid the writing matched by Cartwright’s gyrating, mesmerising performance.

And indeed, there is something almost old fashioned about its northern braggadocio stereotyping.

Can’t help loving it, all the same. Cartwright right back on blistering form.

Raz runs at Trafalgar Studios to April 16, 2016

Review first published in Reviewsgate, March 2016

By Jim Cartwright


James Cartwright

Director: Anthony Banks
Lighting Designer: Joshua Carr
Sound Designers and Composers: Ben and Max Ringham
Associate Sound Designer: Sarah Weltman

Presented by Assembly Festival and Riverside Studios

World premiere of Raz, Aug 6, 2015 at Assembly Festival, part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

First perf at Trafalgar Studios, London, March 22, 2016;

After London run, then travels to The Lowry, Salford, Mon 16 May;
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough and Scarborough Fair Festival, Sat 28 & Sun 29 May; Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Wed 1 – Fri 3 Jun; Unity Theatre, Liverpool, Fri 10 & Sat 11 Jun; Theatre Royal, Wakefield, Mon 13 & Tue 14 Jun.