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FringeReview Scotland 2024

A Giant on the Bridge

Beautifully crafted piece of theatre that asks questions of us all.

Genre: New Writing, Storytelling, Theatre, True-life

Venue: Cumbernauld Theatre @ The Lanternhouse


Low Down

Created as part of the “Distant Voices: Coming Home project”, this is a gig theatre piece which takes us through a reimagined fairy tale, where the King has imprisoned Gerda the Giant, until the Prince lets her free and she rampages. Gerda has melted the Prince’s compassion by telling of her removal of her own heart, burying it somewhere, so that she no longer feels pain.  The Prince goes in search of the heart, only to discover something as shocking as any modern tale. D’s  story intertwines about him coming out of prison, attending workshops to reimagine his lyrics to a previously recorded track for his daughter and his family to hear. Added to D’s journey are Clem’s story, who supported the family until she could not anymore and June, D’s twin who has been looking after daughter, Faith until he returned. And when he did, he  discovered something, to him, as shocking as any ancient fairy tale.


There is an apocryphal tale, which I have heard told many times and even told it myself. It is of a newsagents round the corner from Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. It is said that weekly, the shopkeeper awaits which of the newly released inmates shall turn the corner, find a brick and thrust it through his window. I have even heard it told when he would leave the brick close by to give a helping hand to his fellow man. There are many versions, and all with some sympathy for the shopkeeper or just shock of the sadness that anyone would need the rules of incarceration to dull the sense of freedom.

I rarely hear it with sympathy for the poor guy trying to get back into the jail. But I hear it now. In my head.

A Giant on the Bridge metaphorically is about the heavy emoting pressure in the headspace of someone going from punishment to responsibility. What is missing for society is often, whether is the responsibility of us all. Punishment is meant, surely to stop, after the release from prison. Isn’t it? Done the crime, served it? What A Giant on the Bridge has crafted is a superb piece of theatre which in original song and storytelling manages to tell the inspiring tale of how a project discovered creativity in the darkness of a prison, hoped that people would come back after their first encounter with the visiting artists and then they found exceptional songs that were dark, heavy but light enough to lift your thinking. Your soul is always the hope.

The narrative is superb. Interlinked between the traditional tale reimagined and D’s story, the fairytale told by Kim Grant, has enough of a childlike wonder in its simplicity of performance which makes the complexity of emotion at the ending wonderfully startling. The songwriter’s story, told by Louis Abbott, which tells the tale of how they all came to be in one room from the perspective of someone more nervous than a first time inmate also serves to question our attitudes to what we are about to receive. I was glad and grateful. The counterpoint of honesty from Jill O’Sullivan telling June’s story in her Chicago twang along with D’s story dropped like silken knowledge by Solareye draws the fantastical into the reality of emotional fear. And Clem’s story told by Jo Mango, drafts in another element  between honesty and fear, love and trepidation, a nod to now and the heavy toll taken on people who have the heart to support those we have little for, or money, funding, structure, infrastructure, support or places on a buzzword bingo card. … or just to help out adequately never mind properly.

In short, this was perfectly poised and with great skill.

The songs hung. It is too lazy to describe them as haunting for they were far more than that. They were pieced together as homages to the stories and the perspectives of a voiceless crowd who had trusted that their feelings would be respected, given their own freedom and allowed to sing a song of… emotion.

Performed live, with some fantastically memorable lyrics I realised very quickly that trying to guess what I was going to watch by piecing together the song titles and expecting some stereotypical prison drama was a huge mistake. Everything I expected was turned on its head. From  gang of scarecrows to a round peg in a square go, clinging to her like a little barnacle, to finding a little bit of hope in the hard stuff, this dripped the flow of respect.

But the best bit about this, is not the show. It is not the artists onstage. It is the words of the people unseen still, who gave agency to their emotions and wrote. Art has found them and we have turned up to listen. But society discards them because they believe that such creativity is what we can do without. Really? How misguided are we? After all, the delinquent is only the child who knows our rules but has decided to discard them because they have tehri own creative rules by which they survive. We are too arrogant to sit and listen but when we do, we all improve. When they turn to adults, they rampage because they are sat in the shadows: here they got to come out and shine. I truly hope they do not go back in .

The set did look  little like an ancient waiting room for a psychiatrists’ office with the leather armchair, comfortable seating, plants and greenery to make it less formal until I wondered what Solareye had done to end up on the naughty step, or the plastic chair with the smallest keyboard I have seen for a while.

I loved this. As a theatrical piece it works exceptionally well. As a representation of people who have transgressed and ended up in prison for whatever reason, like the work of Red Tangent Records, it is a meaty addition to trying to do something creative with some of the most creative people, out there. It’s not about giving hope, but about recognizing reality and trying to support change. Next time I tell that story, is shall ask what as a society, does it say about us that we think that is humorous or why the shopkeeper does not invite them in for some human connection.