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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!



The Boy on the Bridge


by Gareth Pilkington


Directed by Dimitri Devdariani


Set Design & Stage Management by Stu-Art James


Rose Theatre – Bankside


11-29 Oct 2011

“If I choose to stay somewhere it’s because there’s nothing to make me”, is the free spirited ethos of Jonjo (Steve Clarke), a young man who lives on a bridge, not out of necessity but out of choice. Yet buried in his line is a sense of childish obstinacy, of denial, of avoiding responsibility for the sake of it. Jonjo appears to want a quiet life, away from the demands of other people;  Clarke portrays him as a serious young man “looking down on the ant-men”, a self proclaimed outsider, who believes his nomadic lifestyle gives him the moral high ground, both literally and physically over the rest of us. But underneath Clarke’s tough exterior, behind his hunted eyes, is a man battling with himself. It is only when Linda (Anna Tarsh), a child psychologist introduces him to Ziggy, (Charles Cussons) a nervous young boy, that he begins to revaluate his own selfish outlook on life.

Charles Cussons as Ziggy, inhabits the mannerisms and movements of a young boy with learning difficulties unnervingly well. Fidgeting with the zip of his hoodie and tilting his head to one side, at first shy and then filled with nervous energy, Cussons performance is brilliant but heart breaking at the same time, for we discover that he is the victim of child abuse.  Once Jonjo reluctantly agrees to take him under his wing, Ziggy begins to come out of his shell and for the first time it seems as though Jonjo can forge some kind of connection with a boy who has never known intimacy. However, all this changes when Jonjo’s mate,  Malc ( Bobby Hirst) turns up. Hirst’s Malc is a crass, Northener with little patience for “retards”. He can’t understand Jonjo’s relationship with Ziggy and urges him to leave. When the two return after four months hitch-hiking round Italy, Ziggy is still there waiting for Jonjo. But when Malc forges a relationship with Uni student, Kathy (Frankie Meredith), all three of them become embroiled in Kathy’s manipulative game.

Meredith is a good actress, however her role is unbelievable at best, for are we supposed to believe that a philosophy student at Durham is going to jump into a sleeping bag with two homeless men just to make them jealous of each other? There is no doubt that her addition to the performance adds drama, but she seems out of place in their world. Pilkington detracts our attention from Ziggy, the locus of the play and uses Kathy to artificially stimulate jealousy amongst the men.  Clearly, she is attracted to the freedom of their lifestyle, but she appears too cosseted too sustain a believable relationship.

Pilkington’s text is wrestling with a way to create a reason for the men to fall out and Kathy’s possessive nature and power over the three is interesting to watch, but perhaps she needs to come from a less snobbish  background to integrate her with the male characters realistically. The location too was unconvincing, why you would sleep on the top of a disused railway bridge as opposed to under it, I’m not sure, perhaps it’s to do with Jonjo’s sense of superiority, but the set did not feel as cold or as desperate as you imagine living rough to be, in fact the wooden floor, incense sticks and sleeping bags made for quite a cosy atmosphere. You just needed to head across the bridge to St Paul’s, to witness the Occupy London protests, to really get a feel for how tough it can be to live rough.

Pilkington brings to the stage an incredibly fragile character in the form of Ziggy, and Cussons performance is particularly striking to watch. The Boy on the Bridge raises profound questions about intimacy and the nature of trauma. It explores how hard it can be to open up to people and connect, with the shadow of abuse hanging over your life. Clarke’s Jonjo is an interesting character who captivates your attention as he attempts to escape from his past and disprove the phrase, “No man is an Island”. Despite this, his relationship with Ziggy proves that he is a genuinely caring human being. His fear of walls, of being trapped in a system he can’t control, is a powerful idea that resonates beyond the confines of the theatre into the protests across the river. For like the protestors, Jonjo is concerned with two things, responsibility and accountability, but is he being true to his ideals or is he just a rich kid slumming it?  

Rose Theatre - Bankside
56 Park Street, SE1 9AR
Box Office: 020 7261 9565
Tues –Sat @ 7.30

Tickets £12/£10

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