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Bridge Theatre: A Very Very Very Questionable Year

Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr’s year-old theatre is testing my patience. The mission statement of the two Nicks was to focus primarily on new plays.

I suppose they did do that.

One thing’s for sure, though – the 900-seat, £12.5m Bridge Theatre, has the best toilets in London. No subsidy either. 100% commercial theatre, folks, and disappointingly, when I glanced a programme, within the core staff: no education department. Poor show, guys.

There’s something a bit unnerving about anyone who isn’t London’s literati giving a damn about Bridge Theatre. The warning signs were there as early as the third production Nightfall (Barney Norris) and who can forget the terminal Young Marx (Richard Bean). Let’s not dwell on the shoddy reunion with long-term collaborator Alan Bennett (Allelujah!) either. I walked out of all three bored rigid.

The fact that Hytner has still never directed a play by a woman is an obvious concern, which, I think you’ll agree, is fairly impressive. The two Nicks have to start commissioning and involving women writers. Their worrying all-male, all-white line-up will never bring in a diverse audience.

But, hey, why bother with quality control when you can sell tickets to an Evening with Nigella Lawson for £45.00 a pop and shed-loads of Madelines during the intervals.

The Bridge’s latest misfireMartin McDonagh’s objectively rubbish new play A Very Very Very Dark Matter. It might be a contender for the worst play of the year. Why? The plot. Or almost complete lack of it, to be more accurate. No matter how many illustrious writers pen something for that stage and, despite them being an Oscar winner – I still haven’t been able to find one. A Very Very Very Dark Matter never takes off; avoid it at all costs.

A Very Dark Matter, Jim Broadbent

A Very Dark Matter, Jim Broadbent

McDonagh has taken a historical figure and made him a racist idiot– imagining the life he lived at the height of his fame – in this case by portraying Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (Jim Broadbent) being offensive to a Congolese pygmy woman (Eula’Mae Ackles) in a secret dwelling upstairs in his attic.

As maddeningly incoherent as it sounds.

What did stun me, though, was the sudden realisation that I’d seen it before. It’s a star-fucking Horrible Histories, obviously, but not just the basic grotesque spin on historical events – whether portraying Charles Dickens as a foul-mouthed misery or Christian Andersen as a cockney racist.

The difference, of course, is that Horrible Histories often delivers a powerful message with a charm, subtlety, humour, a proper story and a great script. Matthew Dunster’s production does it with a mallet over the head. The 90-minute evening is full of the F and C words and an attempt to make us laugh at genuinely offensive language, stereotypes about ‘gyppos’ and in-jokes about German directors. How wrong. How sadly, awfully, dangerously wrong.

Either Nick Hytner and Nick Starr have taken their eyes off the ball or else they are working towards better things. However, what they are missing, as yet, is a real sense of vision, inclusion and diversity. Just because it is a commercial enterprise doesn’t mean these things are not compatible.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Sure, the toilets are nice and Hytner’s promenade production of Julius Caesar was smart and gripping. But with the new season containing a victory-lap of monologue My Name Is Lucy Barton and Hytner directing an immersive production of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’ll pass thanks.

And you can keep your signature Madeleines… For now.

Nicholas Hytner & Nick Starr welcomed the first ever audience to the newly built Bridge Theatre

Tonight (Saturday 14 October 2017Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr welcomed the first ever audience to the newly built Bridge Theatre situated on the river by Tower Bridge and City Hall.  In advance of official previews beginning next week (18 October 2017), tonight an audience of Bridge and Young Bridge members were invited to try out the building for the first time.

As well as seeing Young Marx, the opening production at the Bridge – a new play by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, directed by Nicholas Hytner – the audience of over nine hundred people experienced the theatre’s in-house bar, café and up to date facilities.

The flagship theatre of the London Theatre Company, the Bridge is London’s first theatre of scale to be added to London’s commercial theatre stock in eighty years.

London Theatre Company commissioned the new theatre from architect Steve Tompkins and his colleague Roger Watts from Haworth Tompkins.  The Bridge auditorium is a collaboration between Haworth TompkinsLTC and Tait Stage Technologies.