I dislike multi-storey car parks with a passion. I’ve broken down in them, lost tickets, misplaced my car (temporarily) and even been accused of causing an accident in one at the exact time I was in a theatre miles away! So, when I was asked to review a play being performed on the sixth floor of a multi-storey car park in Stratford, I thought twice about saying yes but I’m glad I did because Bridges Y Puentes is a triumph.
The adventure begins in the lobby of the Theatre Royal in Stratford and the audience of 80 or so is guided around the corner to a multi-story car-park inside a shopping arcade on the less salubrious side of Stratford with the gleaming Westfield shopping mall just across the road looking a lot more inviting. A lift then takes us to the sixth floor where we’re told to follow the actors who will lead us around the space which has thankfully been blocked off from any cars!
Then as the sounds of the city blare out from a speaker cunningly disguised as a suitcase (more of them later), six people, four male, two females dressed in muted browns and beiges, walk towards us in a rhythmic, contemporary dance kind of way and the performance starts. When they reach the audience, the embrace us and welcome us as we are now refugees entering a strange and new country.
Over the next sixty minutes or so we learn all about each character. Amongst them, there’s the old, dreadlocked, Rastafarian from the Caribbean who’s been here since the fifties, the eastern European man who’s made a life here for him and his family and the Irish girl whose family settled here years ago. We’re guided around the space to different areas as the actors run or dance or shout their way around the drafty, concrete car park. At one time, we’re led through an area where there are photos of dozens of immigrants labelled where they’re from. Then there’s a scary moment when we have to go through passport control where we have to show our (dummy) passports that we had to fill in before the performance started. There we’re all herded like animals into a cage and told where to stand. One of the characters is barred from entering as he doesn’t have the right visa – a chilly moment in a chilled location.
We then hear more stories about how they came as refugees from Eritrea, The Congo etc. and we’re drawn into their situations and told how they’ve made a home for themselves in a country that welcomed them. There’s a particularly poignant moment when the old Rasta (superbly played by Shango Baku), tells how whilst he hated the cold when he came to the “mother country”, he now loved it and wanted to rest his bones here when he died as he now felt it was home.
We also get the other side of the coin when the Irish girl moans about the number of immigrants who are coming to her country as the schools are full and we don’t have room for anymore – even though her family immigrated here themselves.
Bridges Y Puentes is all about these people’s stories and they’re wonderfully told by Baku, Piotr Baumann, Martin Espindola, Clovis Kasanda, Leah Kirby and Anna Symes. The production is marvellous with great use made of suitcases which are symbolically handed out to some of the audience who become participants. Some of us were then handed shoes that when they’re left on the ground as we move to another part of the space, look forlorn as if they’re waiting for their owners to come and claim them. The sound design by Filip Gomes fills the enormous space with
music, sound effects and at the end, the voices of real immigrants. And the direction from Marion Duggan is fluid and energetic as we forget we’re in a car park in Stratford and are mesmerised by what we’re seeing and hearing.
Ragroof Players have been writing and re-writing Bridges Y Puentes for a number of years, honing and changing it to fit the times. This is a difficult period for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers who are barred from entering many countries around the world. For many of us, we didn’t think we would ever become such a country so Bridges Y Puentes is a timely reminder that we are now one and could be for the foreseeable future – it’s a disturbing thought for a lot of people.
Review by Alan Fitter
Interviews with migrants – recent and not so recent – are at the heart of Bridges y Puentes 2017, a vibrant and moving promenade show by outdoor theatre specialists The Ragroof Players. Set in car parks, Bridges y Puentes opens at Hull Freedom Festival from 1 to 3 September before coming to Theatre Royal Stratford East from 14 to 16 September then the Charlton Centre, Dover from 22 to 24 September.
The migrants’ powerful stories and memories emerge through text, visual imagery, physical action and a soundscape of live and recorded music from all over the world. The Ragroof Players have worked with local communities in Hull, East London and Dover, interviewing migrants to each of these cities to discover the stories behind the headlines. Verbatim transcripts form the basis of the show.