Igor Memic’s Old Bridge, winner of the 2020 Papatango New Writing Prize, is a play of powerful, beautiful magnitude from something so minuscule. Against the backdrop of a bridge in Bosnia, a romance blossoms and a war brews.
Accompanied by friends Leila (Rosie Gray) and Sasha (Emilio Iannucci), Mina (Emilia’s Saffron Coomber) watches newcomer Mili (Dino Kelly) jump from the top of said bridge – known as Stari Most – and such a display is enough for her to fall for him.
Yet in terms of plot, the play feels like a collection of three smaller subplots than one overarching narrative. Granted, the beginnings of the Bosnian War emerge eventually, but not before the awkward flirting at the start of a relationship is dealt with. Of course, the first kiss and deciding to live together is not the end of a partnership, but when this misconception and arc cemented in many love stories is achieved all within the first act, the slow-burning play is in need of another narrative beyond that of the occasional interjection from an older Mina (Susan Lawson-Reynolds). This is when what is previously in the background jumps to the fore, just in time for the interval.
Although the staging from Oli Townsend is nothing more than a few raised platforms, director Selma Dimitrijevic finds some poignant uses for the minimalism across the two-hour long production. As we witness our first causalty as young Mina looks away – instead turning her back and finding comfort in her headphones – the old Mina stares at them backstage, the acknowledgement she couldn’t give them in that tragic moment finally taking place in the future. Aideen Malone’s lighting design is just as astonishing, with gorgeous silhouettes and delicate, overhead lightbulbs tapping into the fragility of the subject matter with crackling and bursts of light.
Lawson-Reynolds’ performance is exceptional, in a role which is handed Memic at his most lyrical. Never has something as simple as a bridge been described in such a poetic way, with gentle gesticulations from the actress to produce the most emotive performance. At one point, the foreshadowing is so tragically apparent. We see an older Mina whose been changed by loss, and along the way, we see how her friends have turned to drink, adapted morals and more in response to war – a war which, to my shame, I knew nothing about during my time in education.
It is absolutely right that the play is described as being about the war that Europe forgot, but a lot about this production is moving and memorable.
Old Bridge is now playing at the Bush Theatre until 20 November.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Old Bridge’ for free as a member of the press in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment