Directed by Emma Faulker
Pros: The cast worked fantastically together, creating a truly tense and touching dynamic.
Cons: A couple of suspect Irish accents occasionally tainted the atmosphere.
Our Verdict: A sensational piece of theatre loaded with conviction, commitment and emotion.
|Courtesy of The Finborough Theatre|
Before its premier performance in January 1960, Over the Bridge had caused mass controversy
amongst the theatre companies of Ulster, the Northern Irish province in which Belfast sits. Its writer, Sam Thompson, was an Irish shipyard worker whose commitment to his trade union was unfaltering right up to his death in 1965, just five years after this, his first play was performed. Thompson’s decision to write a play concerning the clashing voices of trade union officials amidst a climate of fear and doubting, imposed by the conflicts between the country’s Catholic and Protestant citizens, with the shadow of the IRA looming over their everyday lives was controversial to say the least, which is why it took three years to get the play performed after he had written it, three years earlier.
The production was housed in the lovely Finborough Theatre, a West London venue specialising in new and re-discovered material which regularly hosts Irish plays. The performance space within the theatre is a fairly small room which was dominated by an elaborately constructed set, complete with wooden walls, backlit windows, three different levels of staging and a very large desk. Combined with the small dimensions of the space, the enclosing nature of this set was brilliant – I felt completely immersed in the action of the play and was able to remove myself from the mindset of ‘watching a production and forming an opinion’ and just become completely absorbed in the story unfolding in front of me. Director Emma Faulkner used the multi-levelled set to the best of its potential with no moments of dragging static dialogue; it remained visually interesting throughout. With minimal alterations, the set started as an office and later became the back room of a workshop, a Belfast street and the inside of a character’s house, and the few prop changes which were needed were conducted fluidly within the action, with the actors remaining in character and interacting with one another as they passed.
The acting itself was of a consistently high standard, with a cast so well blended that it is difficult to believe the relationships their characters bear to one another ceased to exist after their final bows. The stand-out performances of the evening came from Michael Nielson as Davy Mitchell, Amy Malloy as his daughter Marian and Melanie McHugh as Martha White – while they gave the most touching portrayals of their characters, however, not one member of the cast could be described as lacking in any sense. Even Alan Mooney, who had to step in at the very last minute and was subsequently on-book, gave a convincingly authoritative performance as the head Foreman Mr Fox.
From beginning to end, this play was enrapturing. I struggled to get hold of the threads of story line to begin with, but this had more to do with my limited knowledge of Irish history than anything directly related to the performance. Once it had gathered some momentum, the play began to build on it more and more; the fifteen minutes leading up to the attack of a mob on two of the central characters were some of the tensest I’ve ever experienced. The most impressive scene, however, took place in the aftermath of the tension and excitement, at the wake of Davy Mitchell: a loved old man who sacrifices his life to the mob standing up for what he believed in. The emotions portrayed by the cast in this scene were tender and incredibly sensitive. Amy Molloy as the daughter of the deceased was heart-wrenchingly believable as the bereaved offspring. In this scene, her character delivers the speech which gives the play its name, describing how for three years as a child, she would wait by the bridge to the shipyard everyday to see if her daddy would return with work and, for three years, he never did. Molloy’s delivery was soft, with the anger she wishes to bestow upon her late father’s employer audibly belaboured by her grief. Coming after the increasingly tense build up to the climactic attack, the final scene was both beautifully written and performed, tipping the emotion levels of the audience right over the edge – I wasn’t the only one in the room hastily wiping tears away as the lights went down.
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Over the Bridge runs at The Finborough Theatre until 14th May 2013.
Box office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/booking.php