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By the Way: image from film by Justin Jones

Most people, on hearing that someone's mother had died, would express at least some sympathy, even if it were feigned. Not the two men on a road trip through France in this odd play by Noëlle Renaude. On meeting a sombre waitress, they bristle at her grumpiness; told that her mother died recently, they respond brusquely: "It's not the end of the world."

In a sense they know this because both characters have lost their own mothers - as, indeed, has almost everyone they encounter on their picaresque journey. While they put up an aggressive front of unemotional detachment, both men are still haunted by the loss, so much so that when one sees a deer while driving, he swerves dangerously, convinced that the animal had "my mother's eyes".

... Hints are dropped that the women were less than perfect: they were unfaithful, secretive, selfish. One committed suicide on the first floor of the hotel she had just redecorated, leaving her son to clean up the mess. The one mother we meet who is still alive stands by the roadside attempting to sell her daughter as a prostitute. But Renaude seems to be writing more to provoke a frisson of discomfort than because she has anything to communicate.

Thankfully, Cassie Werber's crisp production offers its own pleasures. A wonky image projected at the back of the stage shows us what passes in the car's rear-view mirror, while a voiceover describes these sometimes beautiful, sometimes surreal sights: "A poet's cottage. Fresh-blown roses. A crossing for small, depressive animals." The energetic performances from Stavros Demetraki and Kevin O'Loughlin, playing the men and the people they meet, make these characters much more likable than their words suggest.

Maddy Costa, The Guardian, Aug 08
By the Way
About the show | Reviews | Pictures/video
This gentle play is a poetically composed journey through shared grief and mother-child relationships. Following the deaths of their mothers, and accompanied by the dulcet tones of their sat-nav, two friends drive across France in search of the sea and respite from sorrow. They find neither. Stavros Demetraki and Kevin O'Loughlin give heartfelt performances as these perturbed friends and a host of characters met along the way, O'Loughlin's face particularly speaking volumes without him having to utter a word. The staging is refreshingly concise, allowing space for the patterns of memory to form, but most interesting is the contrast of the bewildered consciousnesses of our protagonists with the comic surety of the sat-nav's (almost maternal) guidance.

****

Three Weeks, Aug 08
One Scot, one Londoner, do France - whilst trying to negotiate the effects of maternal death. The two lovely lads, (one has to fight the urge to haul them off stage and take them home to your mum), are armed with nothing but a small square of stage and an old boarding-school trunk. On the screen behind them are projected soft and artsy images depicting views from the car window. The idea of travel is further enforced by the voice-over; half sat-nav, half therapist, pointing out road signs, city names, traffic hotspots and providing philosophically astute observations on death.

This combination of the metaphysical and the ordinary is what makes By the Way successful. There are lines that would usually make you wince but there is something in the boyish lyricism of this beguiling pair that dissolves the pretension of the script. The characterisation is strong, the pair meet and transform into several convincing and comedic characters, all of whom have also lost mothers.

The writing in this piece, though at times a little contrived, remains alluring. Allowing her characters to appear as semantic magicians, Noëlle Renaude's lists of objects, colours and sensations are at once strange and powerful. The script is peppered with onomatopoeic mastery that makes you scribble down quotes and mouth sentences which satisfy the palette. The artistry of the writing does damage narrative coherence, rendering it a little difficult to gain a satisfying grasp of what the show is actually about. But the powerful charm of the boys and some astute directing will make you forgive this beautifully written piece.

Fest, Aug 08
Two friends are driving through France on a road trip to the sea, their fun coloured by the fact that both have lost their mothers. On the way they meet a wistful waitress mourning her mum; an eccentric hotelier whose mother's ghost haunts the first floor; and a man going to his son's wedding as a single parent.

Taking on all the roles, Stavros Demetraki and Kevin O'Loughlin deliver warm performances, full of charm and humour. Using only one prop - a large trunk - they make their journey and the people they meet entirely believable. Playwright Noëlle Renaude's evocative, elegiac prose is beautifully written, touching and clever; but its poetic nature is sometimes difficult to follow in a theatrical context. The play's fragmentary dialogue and abstract approaches occasionally baffles, particularly when there is a swift switch from one character to the next.

Still, the overarching theme of death binds it together to some extent. Renaude handles the topic with a delicate, light-hearted touch: for a play so singularly about death and mourning, it leaves you feeling surprisingly uplifted.

Metro, Aug 08
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