Highlighting the brutal effect war has on females, Laurence Green reviews Ukrainian playwright Natalya Vorozhbit’s new play Bad Roads.

Bad RoadsThe savage conflict that continues to rage in Ukraine is brought sharply into focus in leading Ukrainian playwright Natalya Vorozhbit’s new play Bad Roads ( Royal Court Theatre), translated by Sasha Dugdale and directed by Vicky Featherstone, which casts a bitter look at what is to be a woman in wartime.

This is not so much a fully rounded drama as a series of loosely linked scenes, consisting of six vignettes of violence. The first is by far the best. A Kiev-based writer, Natasha relates the tale of a research trip she made to the battle zone a year after the siege of Donetsk airport and how she fell for her soldier escort. The length and solitude of this segment is rather destabilising but this is a personal, moving monologue, filled with a double guilt: that of the confident storyteller and of a woman who fell in love in a region where men were blowing each other apart with rocket launches. We then move on to a group of teenage Russian schoolgirl with Ukrainian soldier ‘boyfriends’ followed by a female medic transporting her lover’s headless corpse back to be reunited with the dead man’s wife, and finally, in the most shocking episode, a young journalist who manages to coax from her sadistic-psychotic separatist captor the semblance of humanity.

There is nothing startlingly original about the idea that war turns men into animals, but it is different here in showing the brutal effect on its female victims. The play’s title has a double meaning: it is a metaphor for the rocky emotional paths taken by women in the wartime and a reminder of the rough surfaces that have disfigured the Ukrainian countryside since the communist era, What’s missing in these narrow snapshots of Ukraine’s turnout is a broader, more detailed picture of the political background, while the episodic nature of the drama and sketchy characterisation reduces the overall impact.

Camilla Clark has created a vivid set design of pine trees rising amid an industrial tiled floor.

Director by Vicky Featherstone draws convincing performances from her fine cast, of whom Kate Dickie as Natasha, Ria Zmitrowicz as the captive journalist and Tadhg Murphy as her traumatised tormentor are the most impressive.

Bad Roads

Playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 23 December 2017

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