Dundee Rep, take a huge bow. The much anticipated, uniquely Dundee play, Tay Bridge, is world class.
An inspired script, beautifully lit and cleverly staged, skilfully delivered by a cast playing a clever range of composite characters, this is theatre writ large. It has pathos, social commentary, humour and dramatic tension in abundance.
Playwright Peter Arnott has described his specially-commissioned work, a homage to the victims of the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879, as the Canterbury Tales with a train accident. He has achieved a clever slice-of-life insight into Victorian Dundee society, with its crippling poverty, morality both earnest and failed in equal measure, and the ordinary people who made it so.
Delivered as a series of set pieces, each character tells a tale while the ensemble acts as a chorus. Character changes are marked with effective movement sequences.
The polished skills of this tightly rehearsed ensemble cast are on brilliant display, instantly shifting from old to young, decadent to righteous, oppressed to oppressor. While the play has strong and cleverly contrived social commentary, it never lectures, it simply reveals. The characters are both unique, and Everyman.
It is not appropriate to single out any one of the cast of seven – who play 15 characters between them – for individual praise, since all deliver brilliantly.
The audience engages viscerally with their characters, with the archetypes they represent. Director Andrew Panton deserves special mention for delivering a production that is perfectly formed.
As theatre it has a magnetic premise – the audience knows the ending, the players, hurtling towards their grim destruction, do not. The ending, told in mime with dramatic lighting and sound, is so powerful it sucked the energy from the room on opening night. We left stunned.
The idea behind this play, and others designed to celebrate Dundee Rep’s 80th anniversary, is to tell stories that are uniquely Dundee but can be performed around the world. Tay Bridge succeeds with a flourish.
Tay Bridge is at Dundee Rep until September 21.