The Bridge of San Luis Rey is dense, brilliant theatre, with two levels of access.
Director, Chris Drummond, has produced another hallmark experience of performance and vision and, as usual, the angel is in the detail.
But let’s start with the story. A rope bridge collapses in in Peru on July 20, 1714, and five people who were crossing it are killed. In this production, we focus on their stories, solely, and get to know them and their patchwork of interactions ahead of their doomed day of crossing. While the novel teases out the philosophical and religious ponderings about why these five perished, in this production that task of reflection is left up to us.
We have the famous actress, the scorned matron, the helpful “uncle”, the handmaid, and a few others for good measure, all played by Paul Capsis, who holds court with much power, poise, and panache.
Capsis sings, recounts discussions, opines, and delivers poignant dialogues, all accompanied by the most excruciatingly perfect, Flamenco-inspired score, performed by guitarist maestros Slava Grigoryan and Manus Noble. The musicians not only create the aural backdrop, but they interact occasionally, to great effect, highlighting pauses and surprises, with Noble even doubling as one of the twin characters, Esteban, speaking through music.
For those of us who’d read the Thornton Wilder novel, this production was a powerful rendering of the plights of the central characters, without Brother Juniper’s narration or reflection.
For those not acquainted with the text, this production is an immersive experience of theatrical expression, exploration, and exuberance.
No matter which camp you’re in, this production will be equally as satisfying, albeit with audience members not in the “in crowd” needing to work much harder to tie together the “rope bridge” strands of storyline.
The lighting is immaculate. Gavin Norris deserves a knighthood or any lifetime achievement award on the strength of this show alone. The perfect blues, working in harmony with Capsis’ costume, the orange-tinted relief during the church-based scene of torment, the generous use of darkness and laser-perfect spots, and the absolutely brilliant floor lighting during the bridge collapse, will remain in this reviewer’s memory until he meets the same fate as those bridge goers.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a rich delicacy of theatre. It is not for the casual theatre goer. This is for the connoisseur. Should Covid close our theatres again tomorrow, this one-act morsel will have been sumptuous enough to sustain us through another lockdown; there is theatre alive and theatre in darkness and this production is a bridge of love and sustenance.