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Walking the Chains

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Never one to shun innovation, Isambard Kingdom Brunel would surely have approved of the imaginative use of circus skills to help mark the 150th anniversary of his iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Acrobats from Bristol-based Circomedia, the international centre for contemporary circus training, are only one part of the multi-discipline approach, however, in this ingeniously told story of the bridge. They merge almost seamlessly with an intriguing range of theatrical vignettes about the project’s laboured beginnings initial capital £1,000, eventual construction and now everyday use, assembled by writer ACH Smith and produced by Bristol new writing crusaders Show of Strength.

Tom Wainwright, as the great man himself, strikes just the right note of visionary brilliance shackled by the frustrations of constant delay, while Cassie Webb, in the key role of narrator, joins with several other cast members in demonstrating additional prowess on a variety of musical instruments, in tune with Elizabeth Purnell’s energetic score.

The title refers to the activity of the bridge’s maintenance crews working 75 metres above the River Avon, and here the aerial presence of Circomedia spectacularly illustrates the challenging nature of the engineering achievement. But it is the human side of the story, teased out by Smith and his director Robin Belfield, that so entertainingly mirrors the creativity of perhaps Brunel’s greatest venture. The 12-day run is supported financially by Arts Council England, among others, with all profits going to charity.

Verdict: Brunel would have taken his famous stove-pipe hat off to this exemplary piece of community theatre, staged in the majestic surroundings of his own Victorian passenger terminal

Jeremy Brien

  • Brunel’s Passenger Shed, Temple Meads Station, Bristol
  • January 13-25, PN January 13
  • Author: ACH Smith
  • Director: Robin Belfield
  • Design: James Helps set, Jennie Falconer costume, Mark Dymock lighting, Jon Everett sound
  • Musical director/composer: Elizabeth Purnell
  • Circus director: Mish Weaver
  • Technical: Sheila Hannon creative producer, Maurice Perl executive producer, Guy Jones stage manager
  • Cast includes: Tom Wainwright, Cassie Webb, Craig Pinder, Kim Hicks, Toby Webster, Andrew Wheaton
  • Producers: Circomedia and Show of Strength Theatre Company
  • Running time: 2hrs

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Brunel would have taken his famous stove-pipe hat off to this exemplary piece of community theatre, staged in the majestic surroundings of his own Victorian passenger terminal

The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.