FringeReview UK 2016
Amy Shindler’s Burning Bridges has been ten years in the waiting to be brought to Theatre 503 with a simple realist set of a flat by newcomer Max Dorey (No Villain, shoebox-realist, Cargo, stark) that strips away to a versatile multi-scened second half. Sally Knyvette directs.
Sally Knyvette brings Amy Shindler’s Burning Bridges, ten years in the waiting to Theatre 503 with a simple naturalist set of a flat by newcomer Max Dorey (No Villain, shoebox-realist, Cargo, stark) that strips away to a versatile multi-scened second half.
Shindler’s mother worked with autism, and American Sarah, younger sister of married Kate is focus and catalyst. Sarah’s over here it soon transpires for good having blown her grant on online gambling. Rae Brogan doesn’t miss a ritual, blowing on Coco-Cola cans, refusing to eat anything yellow, fiercely protective of what she’s not (not an idiot savant, not an arithmetical prodigy, just exact) and amongst other things never telling a lie. At least that’s what Kate’s always known. Things change. Conditions aren’t absolute or fixed. Sometimes they improve, but improvement can be more than hard on others who expect one constant and are duped by change. That’s the genius of this breakthrough play; it’s a great pity it isn’t already celebrated.
When baffled Brit husband Dan asks Sarah her interests she reels off ‘TV, One Direction, Bears, Ghandi, Oral Sex not necessarily in that order.’ That capitalisation’s typical and the scene’s telling: Sarah’s contrived to shower again wearing nothing but a towel whilst her sister’s out, provocative to Dan. She notes he’s stolen a biscuit and becomes complicit, yet she’s never lied or concealed anything. She’s clearly setting herself at him, partly through resentment at Kate for apparently abandoning her, partly inscrutable desires.
It’s more than Sarah’s conflict though. Dan and Kate met at work, have been cautious about outing themselves and marrying, and Dan beats Kate, more qualified to a job because Kate’s already looking after Sarah. She then loses her job and Dan makes the appalling gaffe of hoping (he’s pushing forty, she now thirty-three) she’ll start a family instead. This explodes, with the denouement that Kate leaves Dan on his birthday, to Sarah’s eager mercies with a chocolate cake made partly from mayonnaise as there’s no cream. And a Trivial Pursuits with vodka forfeit.
The fallout’s spectacular, we’re treated to snapshots of accusations, police involvement, retractions and the possible end of a marriage which Kate, when truth outs itself, attempts to rescue. Shindler’s point about truth and lies and Asperger’s is starkly valid, though one feels it’s a leap for the Sarah we’ve seen to make the accusation she does.
Shindler does her best to fillet in a tense moment where Dan’s words might provoke it, though, and the way Shindler plots denouements in fine lightning-flashes is compelling. There’s less humour in the second act – though the harrumphing waitresses whose offer of special Norwegian ice (so mid-noughties) is rejected mark some neat additions to the closed world – and more focus on the couple’s appallingly good intentions with each other derailing, as first one then the other attempts to save their love. Various duettings close this remarkable, necessary play.
The additions of two waitresses who double as policewomen is in a sense generous to actors but Gaby French and Sarah Balfour (two others are named, but the cast was five-strong) have much less to do and this might prove a luxury to mount. This with the accusation at the heart of the drama that turns it into something else, needs to settle a little as credible, and it well might. Other than this, it’s a superbly crafted play, witty, ground-breaking – portraying with insight someone with Asperger’s as destructive – and even heart-breaking. Shindler beautifully judges the pathos and development in each of her three main protagonists.
If Brogan dominates the three-hander first half, the five-hander second is more evenly divided, with Anne Adam’s Kate able to explode with torn loyalties, switchbacks and revelations. Her emotional range is allowed to widen, as is Simon Bubb’s numbed Dan. Comic foils earlier, Adams and Bubb – who stumbles to an elevation as it were – are scarred, bitterly wise, perhaps now half a world too wide for their former connection.
Knyvette directs with crisp aplomb and pacey authority: there’s nothing but lean and it happens with an alacrity wholly in tune with Shindler. It’s to Knyvette that we owe the resurrection of this play – as for its inception through Shindler’s late mother and other collaborators.
With such a necessary drama too, it’s good it’s so tight and masterly. We need more Shindler in the theatre rather than just on screen or – dare I admit – in her role as Brenda Tucker in The Archers.