Tay Bridge

August 17, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Compelling

The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241): Mon 15 – Sat 20 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a confidence to the staging and performing of Tay Bridge, from Arkle at the Royal Scots Club for one week, that is thoroughly involving.

Peter Arnott’s 2019 play may be overshadowed by his award-winning The Signalman, about similar events and of similar vintage, but this is a tremendous piece of theatre in its own right.

A scene from Tay Bridge. Pic: Rob Shields.

If you are one of the few people in Scotland who knows nothing bout the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879, when the recently-opened bridge collapsed, killing all on the train crossing it, then you should maybe find out before attending.

There is nothing in this play about the background, the aftermath or the designer’s culpability. Instead, Arnott presents a series of vignettes detailing the background of passengers who may have been on the train.

At first the variety of characters is deliberately bewildering, but it settles down into a dizzying tapestry of Victorian Dundee life. Each of the cast plays several roles, but they all have their featured moment.

Steven Bradley-Croall’s idealistic teacher and Bronagh Finlay’s minister’s widow both have stories that show the horrendous class divide and the literally deadly effects of poverty. Both performers display rage and righteousness effectively.

chilling characterisation

John Canmore’s travelling sales rep, hinting at horrible crimes, is a particularly chilling characterisation. Esther’s cast-off ‘kept woman’ is sympathetic and has an impressive musical feature.

There is a real depth to Therese Gallacher’s maid, lost after devoting her life to an ungrateful mistress, while Hannah Lally and Robbie McHardy-Reid give a young couple considering emigration real spark.

A scene from Tay Bridge. Pic: Rob Shields.

John Lally’s direction is confident without ever being showy. Indeed, it could do with drawing more attention to itself – the tableau elements, especially those depicting the disaster, are so impressive they could easily go on longer.

Excellent use is made of the acting space, with both the stage and the area around it being utilised to the full. The staging of the train and of the other scenes from the passengers’ lives, is simple but effective, with stark scenery of those fatal cross-beams being particularly effective.

John Weitzen’s lighting, and the sound of Craig Robertson and Rob Shields, are notably effective.

It is clear that many of Edinburgh’s grassroots and amateur companies have returned to the Fringe this year simply bursting to show what everyone has been missing, and are producing performances of real quality.

If you are looking for an evening’s entertainment in the middle week of the Fringe, you could not do much better than taking in Arkle’s two contrasting but equally effective productions.

Running time: One hour 20 minutes (no interval)
The Royal Scots Club (Hepburn Suite), 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE (Venue 241)
Monday 15 – Saturday 20 August 2022
Daily: 20:15
Tickets and details: Book here.

Company website: https://arkle-theatre.com

ENDS

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