Old Bridge at Bush Theatre
The dry ice is thick at the Bush Theatre, where 2020 Papatango New Writing Prize winner Old Bridge is running. One cannot help but think of Tennessee Williams’s use of “the screen device” in The Glass Menagerie as a distinction between past and present. But the air is so hazy, even in the audience, that this sheet of nostalgia becomes difficult to distinguish.
A narrator, Emina (Susan Lawson-Reynolds), takes viewers from an unspecified present to the distinct occurrences of her past: Mostar, Bosnia, 1992. In an extended prologue, local girl Mina (Saffron Coomber) meets Mili (Dino Kelly), a Croatian-born Catholic who attempts to ingratiate himself into the town by leaping from the famous old bridge. They fall for each other, and Memic depicts the sitcom-like happenings of the pair, along with their friends Leila (Rosie Gray) and Sasha (Emilio Iannuci).
One knows that the Bosnian war is on the horizon, and that painful inevitability is drawn out in the cast’s smiling chemistry by director Selma Dimitrijevic. They are broad types, but portrayed with detailed performances and well plumed jokes. Sasha is flashily humorous, but also street-smart. He is the origin of a Chekhov’s gun. Knowledge of Mostar, not only its geography and people, but its soul, becomes the very stuff that can keep these characters alive as the brutal fighting threatens to divide the characters on ethnic lines.
This sense of a punchline can be the play’s downfall, too, as Old Bridge often feels the need to tie up each loose end. In the final scenes of the play, this means a lot of characters reference things that were said in the first act. It’s neat, it’s the mark of a thoughtful piece, but it loses some of the story’s political edge.
This memory play is not based on Igor Memic’s own reminiscences, but rather those of his relatives and close friends. Memic grew up in Britain, and the production is cunning to acknowledge its separation from the locality by having the actors use their own accents. The Bosnian war is marked by a lack of closure, as Old Bridge acknowledges in the characters’ hunger to memorialise the ghosts of the past. Through simple tableau and five stunning central performances, Memic does justice to the things left behind.
Old Bridge is at Bush Theatre from 28th October until 20th November 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.