Lockdown London theatre walks: Arcola Theatre - memory of a famous Friend and a friendship
Sunday theatre question: A song you always associate a play

Lockdown London theatre walks: Bridge Theatre and a conversion to the groundling experience

One of the newest theatres in London, the Bridge Theatre has already made an impression, not least for making the groundling experience enjoyable.

Bridge Theatre Feb 2021
Bridge Theatre lockdown Feb 2021

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of groundling fans out there, but whenever I've tried it at the Globe, I've ended up frustrated with the view, tired and cold.

But the groundling experience at the Bridge was completely different. It was indoors for a start. More importantly, there was no fixed stage for the audience to queue up early for so you could get a spot at the front and see properly.

Crowds are always problematic for me as I'm short, so I end up trying to peer over peoples shoulders to see.

I get ahead of myself; I haven't even mentioned the play. Actually, it was two different Shakespeare productions: Julius Caesar and then A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Attracted by the starry cast

And I have to confess if Julius Caesar hadn't starred Ben Whishaw - and Michelle Fairley and David Morrissey - I may not have bothered. And I certainly wouldn't have opted for the groundling experience. (I booked a seat for later in the run, just in case.)

Because the Bridge is a new theatre, the auditorium has been designed to be flexible with a wide variety of staging options. For Julius Caesar (and then MSND), this meant bits of stage rising from the floor so that the location of the performance changed frequently.

And that meant your view changed regularly. You could find the stage rising right in front of you for a scene.

If there was ever a problem with the view because of tall people, it never lasted long because that bit of stage would slide back into the floor with another bit rising in a different location.  The crowd would shuffle around accordingly, so you weren't standing still for 2 hours.

As a grounding, you were also an 'extra'; you went from being in the audience at a rock concert to the crowd at a victory rally with 'security guards' ushering you out of the way of Julius Caesar as he arrived.

In the middle of a battle

Later you weren't watching warring factions. You were in the middle of the battle - at one point crouching down as instructed to stay out of the line of fire.

This was genuine immersive theatre.

Added to that, you could turn around and have one of the cast standing right behind you or watch them walk by.

Incidentally, when I did return to see it from a seat which was raised so that you were looking down on the groundlings and performance space, it was interesting to see the reaction when someone realised an actor was standing next to them in the crowd.

Just a change in body language or double-take before going back to watching the main performance.

Flying fairies

It was a fantastic experience, as was watching MSND, which took a similar approach to staging - this time with the addition of fairies performing aerial acrobatics above the performance space.

MSND holds an additional special memory for choosing to give Oberon's lines to Titania and vice versa. It put a very different spin on the play having Oberon fall in love with the ass rather than Titania.

It was hilarious, too, thanks to Oliver Chris and Hammed Animashaun.

And I got to dance with Puck at the end, which was just the cherry on the cake.

Have you got a favourite memory from the Bridge Theatre?

The reviews:

Julius Caesar - rock 'n roll and riots

A Midsummer Night's Dream - bed-hopping and role-swapping

And another honourable mention, this was the last thing I saw at the Bridge and one of my last visits to the theatre before the first lockdown:

Colin Morgan and Roger Allam in A Number