As a theatre student it’s no surprise that I’ve been dying to get back into the theatres. Covid-19 has impacted the whole industry so enormously with an entire workforce unable to work or create. And after the government’s “generous” hand out of £1.57bn to an industry that contributes £7.7bn annually to this country, I am eager to see and support as much as I can.
The first piece I was able to see was The Bridge Theatre’s production of Flight. Based on the novel Hinterland by Caroline Brothers (yay, female writer!), the story follows orphaned brothers Kabir and Aryan and their journey to find safety as they flee Kabul in hopes of making it to London. The story itself is beautiful and heartbreaking, Oliver Emanuel’s adaptation for Flight maintains a voice of un-sentimentality which makes audiences feel even more attached to these children and the realistic nature of their story. I would have to say that my only real criticism of this performance is its lack of trigger warnings as the piece does contains scenes dealing with sexual assault that were not disclosed beforehand.
The most endearing feature of this performance is just that, how it is performed. I went into this experience with about 5% knowledge about it. All I knew was that it involved ‘puppetry’ thanks to the involvement of Jamie Harrison who was behind the award-winning illusions of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. However, I would not necessarily have described the piece as puppetry myself. Audiences enter through the stage door of the Bridge Theatre and are led through the underground tunnels of the building into a dimly lit waiting area until one by one we were invited behind the big black curtain, literally. From there we were escorted to one of the many singular booths that were surrounding this enormous black walled carousel type creation. The booth was very small with just a spinny chair and big headphones within it. Here the attendant instructs you to get comfortable, put the headphones on and “Get as close as you want, but please don’t touch.” At this point I was still expecting real people in some format so the instructions were a bit odd, but after about 20 seconds the little overhead bulb went out and the show began.
Now, I don’t want to give too much away because I think a large part of what made me enjoy the piece so much was this element of secrecy and the unexpected. However, this play is created so intelligently and intricately that I spent a large part of the approximately 45 minute performance trying to figure out how they managed to pull off such a spectacle. The carousel is the stage and it continuously turns, sliding new scenes in front of audiences as it goes. This means no two audience members are witnessing the same part of the story at the same time, always a minute or so apart as that scene makes its way over to you. And the scenes themselves, WOW! I know I am not an artist, despite my attempts, but these figures and scenes are just breathtaking. So detailed and true that you forget you are watching inanimate objects- and the attendant was right, you will want to get as close a look as you can at Jamie Harrison and Rebecca Hamilton’s beautiful figurines.
(Courtesy of https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/flight/# gallery-)
Paired with these works of art is the sound. Through these headphones you are immersed into each location the boys travel to, you hear what they hear. Their voices performed by Nalini Chetty and Farshid Rokey create sweet and likeable personalities for these characters. Mark Melvelle’s soundtrack is very endearing; he knows how to use music and familiar sounds to invoke the emotions of the characters and therefore, the audiences who are so attached to these brothers from early on in the story.
Candice Edmunds (yay, female director!) has created a performance that shines a light on the refugee crisis in Europe in a way that others and mainstream media has been unable to do. She manages to make these figurines feel so real with the combination of isolated viewing (which is also extremely Covid-19 friendly socially distanced seating), surround sound with heartbreaking, uplifting music and intelligent metaphors, which I will let you find out for yourself. As a result, audiences leave the theatre still thinking about the subject matter, how wrong it is and wondering to ourselves how we can play a part in protecting and assisting refugee children such as Kabir and Aryan.
The performance runs from about 2:30pm until 8:15pm on weekdays, with added time slots from the 31st of May due to the show’s popularity, and from 10:00am till 8:15pm on weekends. The general admissions tickets price is £18, however, the Young Bridge tickets are only £5 during the 2:30pm and 3:45pm slots on weekdays. This is due to getting the Young Bridge Membership which lasts a whole year and is totally FREE to all those under the ages of 26.
There you have it, my first introduction back to London’s theatre scene post Covid. A female-lead figurine based play that shines a thoughtful light on the experiences of refugee children today that costs young people only £5. What’s not to like!
The Bridge Theatre also uses this production as a platform to support london-based young refugee children reach their full potential with the charity Young Roots. More information about how you can get involved in their important work here at: youngroots.org.uk.