Writer: Rav Sanghera
Director: Tom Wright
Designer: Emma Williams
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Bradford’s Freedom Studios are expert in the creation of site-specific theatre and, if Bradford Interchange lacks the grandeur and mystery of Drummonds Mill – the site of the group’s masterpiece, The Mill – City of Dreams – it’s an ideal place to site meetings and interactions.
Brief Encounters at Bradford Interchange is cleverly put together, with five main duologues, each no more than 10 minutes. Two female friends meet before a school reunion, one of them resentful of the bad hand life has dealt her and unwilling to go to the reunion. A female bus driver finishes her training and tries to persuade her male instructor to continue their friendship by meeting over coffee. A cleaner talks to a near-suicidal woman who has locked herself in a toilet cubicle. The last two encounters are uneasy ones between different immigrants: the legal and well-assimilated and the desperate, homeless illegal new arrival, then a Polish youth and an old woman who, turned out of Germany by Nazism, has now, as she sees it, been turned out of her home by the daughter who wants her to live with her.
However, writer Rav Sanghera’s skill lies as much in the linking. Two very well-organised young people take a group of 12 from scene to scene, but the audience is joined by participants in the last or next scene who have the briefest of encounters with each other as they go about their business in the Interchange. There is a pleasing flow to the performance and a splendid interaction with the real life of the Interchange that is not obvious when the first scene takes place in a passenger shelter on a rail platform and the second in a bus parked by the terminal – a real coup for the production, but again self-contained. The boldest part of the production is when scenes are played out in the public areas, with passing (or staying and watching) customers wondering at the alternative reality. Boldest of all is the finale with an ever-growing collection of people, including a choir, making its way between the bus bays to enact a rather charming ceremony outside.
The tone of the encounters varies, but all have a positive resolution. The problems (especially those of the illegal immigrant, an almost tragic figure) are not always solved, but always the move is towards hope and mutual understanding. In a full-length play, with developed characters, this could seem glib; here it works well, presenting the Interchange as a meeting place for good.
With 13 listed characters (plus the choir), it would be invidious to single out any performance. None is required to show subtlety of development; all are required to establish character quickly and put their characters over boldly and clearly, despite being squashed up against the audience or having to make themselves heard over passing traffic or the swish of water and even the rumble of thunder (Press Night coincided with a dramatic electrical storm in Bradford). All do this supremely well.
Tom Wright’s direction makes sure that all scenes convince and the coordination of the entire enterprise is exceptionally well done.
Runs until 10 October 2015 | Image: Tim Smith