Brighton Fringe 2009
Developed out of a scratch performance in collaboration with the Nightingale Theatre, Brighton, Phil Gunderson’s one-man journey from Brighton to London and back takes in the human condition, matters of life and death, love and loss, and the metaphor of life as a journey.
There’s much to commend Phil Gunderson’s writing and performance of "The Bridge". "Hello Brighton! Had a good day at work?" is the opening question, and suddenly we are all commuters on our way to London, joining Gunderson in his daily grind. "Eleven years of hating other people’s conversations travelling between the city and the sea." We’re promised a journey from Brighton to London and back again, and that is exactly what we get, shown through the eyes of writer-performer Gunderson, but also a host of characters whose skins he steps ably into. The train is evoked with boldness through the use of a velocity-increasing harmonica, and Gunderson delivers the story is a very direct and accessible way.
As "the lifeblood of the coast flows northwards", we are witness to a central story of a man whose life is heading over the bridge, over a precipice in more ways than one. I won’t spoil the story for you, suffice to say that this is a show that has light comedy at its base, but isn’t afraid to explore darker themes as well. A film backdrop and the use of live camera add to the various moods the show succeeds in creating.
Gunderson himself brings to life the characters on the train, the locomotive itself, the stations along the way, a bridge, and even manages to portray parts of Sussex and Surrey to boot. It is only occasionally overdone, and what makes this play work is that the characters such as train announcers and ticket inspectors are played with humorous caricature, but Gunderson himself remains accessibly human and natural. He is central character and story teller. As both drama and comedy, a successful balance is struck.
The writing contains much humour, wry observation and, though there are many local references, I think the piece will travel beyond its locality. You won’t need to be a Brightonian to enjoy the performance, but there are many references that provide an extra fizz to the laughter.
A lot of props are used, a toy Karaoke machine makes for a fine train announcing speaker system, for example. Not all of the technical elements joined together as seamlessly as they should and there was a certain clumsiness in places. Also Gunderson himself will need to get more fully on top of the many lines in the piece. The show will get better and better as it beds in.
That said, this is a refreshingly accessibly story, deceptively light in tone, that also explores the shadows in the lives of the daily commuters on the Brighton to London Line. Highly recommended.