Despite the years spent visiting theatres in and around London, this is the first time I’ve stumbled across the Tabard. Above a pub of the same name and a minute’s walk from Turnham Green tube, the theatre has an impressive record stretching back to 1985. Firstly concentrating on new writing the venue, currently owned and run by Pulling Focus Ltd, it now programmes all kinds of performances including stand up, musicals, adaptations of classic plays as well as (true to its roots) new writing such as Elastic Bridge. Elastic Bridge is devised, written and performed by John Tomlinson, Rosie MacPherson and Andrew Draper who, together with Eddie Fortune, make up theatre company Strawberry Blonde Curls. The group began working together in Summer 2010, exploring ideas for performance using character-based improvisation techniques.
Elastic Bridge is a product of this and, fresh from first runs at the Lowry in Manchester and the Unity in Liverpool, is perfect for the intimate space of the Tabard. The three characters Alex (played by Draper), Sylvia (MacPherson) and Kurt (Tomlinson) arrive one by one at the bridge. It’s Friday evening and each of them is, at first, so engrossed in their own worries that they think they’re alone. Drawn to the bridge by their separate problems and fears, they all share a common goal. They’re here to end it all.
With comedy, pathos and more than a touch of gallows humour, Alex, Sylvia and Kurt each tell their reason for being here. For Alex, disillusionment with the world is paramount – after a lifetime of being told what to do, the prospect of a future filled with a dull job has lost him his sense of self and brought him to despair. Sylvia, the beautiful but unsuccessful actress, has more to mourn than the lack of a starring role and behind her lurks the wreckage of a dysfunctional relationship, the pressure of which has forced her to the brink. Kurt, an accountant, has always had problems being sociable – he’s never felt part of the ‘gang’, wherever and whatever that might be. Overlooked in love, underappreciated in life and fed up at work, he is the tightest wound spring of all – and when that tension is unleashed, what will be the result?
The stage is uncluttered with the bridge providing the main centre of action. The larger story is divided by blackouts into ‘chapters’, allowing the narrative to develop in stages as the focus shifts from person to person. At points the main story diverges into flashback vignettes of each character’s life – some distant past, some recent – and here the action extends to the forestage and, at one point, into the auditorium. With the inclusion of a back-story for each character, the piece finds more depth and begins to explore the myriad complexities that compose people and their problems – my only gripe is that I wanted to hear more of Kurt, who is the least developed of the three and whose past violence is left largely untreated in any detail.
Each of the trio’s characters have moments of darkness and light, and are allowed to develop into three-dimensions – we see their pasts and how, although separate and distinct, each is now through this chance encounter inextricably linked with the others, as they search for the whys and the hows of being alive.
Elastic Bridge is playing at the Tabard Theatre until 18 February. For more information and tickets, see the Tabard Theatre website. Photos courtesy of Lily Blacksell.