Writer: Dorothy Max Prior
Director: Marion Duggan
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
It feels like everyone is talking about migration at the moment. True, the subject has always been a tabloid favourite and a political hot potato but with Brexit negotiations in full swing, things have been brought to the forefront and even those who don’t usually enter into these sort of discussions, are voicing strong opinions. Sometimes theatre is purely about escapism and other times, it’s about an exploration of the here and now, perspective and – rather than running away – it is about facing things head on.
Bridges Y Puentes is a rather fragmented, confused, but well-meaning and visually interesting play about the experiences of a number of migrants who have landed in the UK, for reasons both in and outside of their control. We follow them here on their journey, literally and figuratively – it’s a promenade piece and we are given our own passport and ushered around a car-less car park on top of a shopping centre in East London.
Initially, we are left to our own devices, we are huddled together waiting for something to begin and, finally, our first performer invites us to listen to his story. He tells us that when he was a child his father decided to move his family to the UK, despite having no place to live or job at the end of the journey. We never entirely understand the true motivation behind this, and the story – as is the case with most told over the course of the piece – is unclear and without full explanation of context or the era or time in which it takes place. Some characters mention their nationality, others don’t; some tell us of their ambitions and motivations and others give us very little factual information. There is one character who is frantic that he is refused passage, due to not having a visa; he professes to have paid everything he has in order to get here but we aren’t made aware why his desire to leave is so imperative, or, actually, where he is attempting to move from. Without such details, we are never really able to empathise fully with the characters, and all that is left is the warmth radiated by a sympathetic theatre audience.
There is a frantic feel of movement throughout the piece – this is communicated by the actors seldom standing still. There is contemporary dance integrated at times but even when dialogue is spoken, the actors are prancing around in a way that detracts from what they are saying; yes, this gives the feeling of ‘itchy feet’, which is relevant to the subject matter, but such blocking becomes irritating after a while. Dialogue is also lost to the poor acoustics of a car park, which has probably been engineered to deaden noise, rather than encourage it to reach the ear of the audience.
It is slightly ironic that a play that explores a subject of movement, and is presented as a promenade piece, never really goes anywhere. We are given themes, fragments, ideas but the play seems confused about the direction it wants to go in and the message it is trying to convey to us. Those with little sympathy and much anger about migration would probably leave feeling unchallenged and individuals with more liberal attitudes towards the topic, would not find their opinions solidified by attending.
David Hare has made a career out of theatre created around the idea of testimony and proves that is is possible to use the arts to stir things up, to make people angry, to make them talk. Perhaps Bridges Y Puentes will open wider discussions, merely by broaching the subject of migration at all, but in terms of inspiring change, it has much further to go.
Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed