Friends, Romans, Mexicans
February 22, 2018
Opened in 2017, The Bridge is a theatre for the 21st century, with an extensive and visually striking foyer, a long bar with food and drink provided by St John (and, as a contrast with theatres in the West End, it’s well provided with “restrooms”!)
For their promenade “in the round” production of Julius Caesar, the stalls seating was removed, and we booked to join the standing audience of around 350 people, rather than sit in the two circle levels.
The production is set in the present, but the language is pure Shakespeare. As we entered the auditorium, we joined a street party, milling around the central stage, with vendors selling snacks and drinks, and staff handing out flyers. A band came on stage, and started playing loud rock music, building up the party atmosphere; we became the Roman mob waiting to celebrate Caesar’s triumphant return to the city. Mark Antony (David Morrissey) ran on, punching the air like Rocky Balboa, and had us putting our hands in the air as the band played “Eye of the Tiger”.
Later we were members of the congress, witnesses to the assassination. Some of the conspirators were planted among the crowd; when they opened fire (pistols, not daggers here) there was a sense of panic as bodyguards took to the stage, and voices behind us shouted “Get down! Get down!”
When the moment for Mark Antony’s great speech came, we were ready to bury Caesar or to praise him.
The production had great energy and a sense of danger. In the civil war that ensues, we were ordered to “Move! Move!” by armed soldiers clearing a way through the crowd. For the battle of Philippi, the stage became a war zone of barricades and barbed wire, and it looked and sounded as if machine gun and artillery fire was coming at us from all sides. The roar of a warplane swooped low over our heads.
When the play ended the cast were joined by the “behind the scenes” team, dressed in camouflage fatigues, to take a well deserved curtain call. The last surprise of the evening came as cast and crew applauded us, the participating witnesses of the drama.
Two hours had passed quickly, without an interval, and we were in need of revival. Foreseeing we would be on our feet for two hours, we had made a cunning plan, which involved a new favourite Mexican restaurant, Santo Remedio, which opened recently on Tooley Street, just round the corner from The Bridge.
We’d had an early bite and a glass before going to the theatre (they fitted us in at the bar; guacamole, tacos and a quesadilla, with a glass of Chenin Blanc).
The cunning part was to go back after the play for a second course. We were greeted warmly again – “How was the play, guys?” – they have a lot of people dropping by for a pre-theatre supper, but not many go afterwards to give feedback on the production.
To which my answer was “Even if Shakespeare isn’t your thing – Go!”
And the same applies to Santo Remedio – “Go!”