Sunday, 22 March 2009

Suspension at the Bristol Old Vic

The fact that Bristol's fine Old Vic theatre has been closed and threatened for much of the last two years owes a lot to an eccentric policy of running esoteric plays to half-empty houses for far too long. Despite some fine exceptions - Carol Ann Duffy's Beasts and Beauties and Great Expectations spring to mind - the theatre management too often put on the main stage drama for a month at a time that more properly belonged in the fringe Studio or should have been given shorter runs.

It will still be 2012 before the Theatre properly reopens with a refurbished main stage. But it was a delight to see the matinee performance yesterday of an excellent new Bristol-based drama, Suspension, by Catherine Johnson, whose Mamma Mia has been a huge box office and stage hit. The story of two men brought together by difficulties with their ex-wives and lack of access to their children, who find themselves on top of Clifton's suspension bridge, one to unfurl a banner that he hopes his daughter will see on her wedding day, the other in a bid to commit suicide, has the comedy that made Mamma Mia such a hit, but laced with a much darker edge. There is an excellent cast, and fine staging in what has proved a sellout production.

In fact, it is just the sort of play that the main stage should have been doing more of in recent years. However, on this occasion it is confined to the much smaller Studio. Once the Old Vic is restored to its former glory, it is to be hoped that its management learn the art of running a theatre that is both innovative and commercially successful. To see the two as mutually exclusive was a foolish piece of self-indulgence. Suspension is a sign that the theatre can get back on track. The shame is that it will be the best part of three years before Bristol has its Old Vic proper back again.

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