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Theatre Review: Tay Bridge ****

Joy Watters reviews 'an unforgettable piece of theatre'.

It’s a work that lingers on in the mind’s eye and even from the opening image has that haunting quality. The lights reveal a group of people standing motionless in time against a surreal backdrop of clouds, like a Sunday school painting, perhaps they wait at the gates of heaven or maybe the swirls of smoke indicate they are hell bound.

The feeling is of some strange place between a dream and a nightmare, and indeed writer Peter Arnott’s new play, specially commissioned for the Rep, shows how dreams were drowned when the Tay Bridge collapsed into the stormy water on December 28, 1879.

Arnott has created a set of characters, strangers thrown together in the train that Sunday night nearly 140 years ago, who tell their stories. It is not a documentary account of the disaster referencing the engineering failures but a human tale with a social commentary on life in Victorian Dundee.

Tay Bridge is the first play of the Rep’s anniversary season (80 years a theatre and 20 of the resident acting ensemble) which celebrates Dundee with stories from the city.

Director Andrew Panton and the cast Barrie Hunter, Anne Kidd, Irene Macdougall, Ewan Donald, Emily Winter, Leah Byrne and Bailey Newsome work beautifully together to create this collection of Dundee portraits. From the heartfelt words of a young teacher directly to the audience to the music hall turn of the tart, it captures the make-up of a diverse society, facing change, some sharing their socialist views and others wanting to emigrate to America.

The skeleton of a railway carriage is moved around to house the action as we move to the apocryphal ending. It is a great piece of design by Emily James, lit by Simon Wilkinson with MJ McCarthy’s sound, all combining to create an unforgettable piece of theatre.

Runs at Dundee Rep until September 21.

Tags: theatre

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