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Over the Bridge - Finborough Theatre

Over the Bridge

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE FIRST London production in over fifty years of the classic 1960 Ulster sectarian drama, Over The Bridge by Sam Thompson, runs at Finborough Theatre on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays from April 28 to May 14, 2013.

I sometimes compare people with a story my father used to tell me when I was a wee girl. About how they built a boat in the shipyard, how they started from her keel plate and built her up, riveting and welding her plates to a sound structure… And when she was finished, she’d sail down Belfast Lough and into the ocean to be lashed and buffeted by storms. But dad always said that he could be sure of one thing, she’d come through it all in one piece. Isn’t it a pity people couldn’t be like that?

Set in the Belfast Shipyard of the 1950s and against the backdrop of the IRA’s Border Campaign, Thompson’s seminal 1960 play is a powerful exposé of Ulster’s sectarian bigotry and violence before the eruption of the Troubles.

Peter O’Boyle, a Catholic shipyard worker, has become the target of a vicious whispering campaign. Veteran Trade Unionist Davy Mitchell, a Protestant who has spent his life fighting for others’ right to work, is keen that the Union does what it can to protect him. As tensions mount and the union begins to split on sectarian lines, mob rule starts to take over…

First staged in Belfast in 1960, the play was produced against a backdrop of controversy when the Ulster Group Theatre withdrew it for being a play that ‘would give rise to sectarianism of an extreme nature’. Its original production, directed by James Ellis, and starring J. G. Devlin, Joseph Tomelty and Harry Towb, played to an audience of 42,000 people during the six-week run, far greater than had attended any play in Belfast previously. It was seen on tour in Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brighton and the West End, and was adapted for both radio and television.

Described by The Irish Times as “a brickbat hurled violently against bigotry”, this Northern Irish classic continues to provoke uncomfortable questions about unity, tolerance and the rules we live by. today.

Over the Bridge is directed by Emma Faulkner, whose directing credits include London 2012: Glasgow (Theatre Uncut at the Bussey Building), Christmas The Musical (Battersea Mess and Music Hall), The Scared Ritual of the Nymphs of Natterjack, part of Bush Bazaar (Bush Theatre), Different is Dangerous (Tamasha), After the End (Dundee Rep and Pleasance, Edinburgh), The Miracle (Dundee Rep), Forfeit, What Love Is (Òran Mór and Dundee Rep), The Ruffian on the Stair, Making Good, Absolute Return (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond) and Knives in Hens (St Marys at BAC)

Playwright Sam Thompson (1916-1965) was a seminal Northern Irish playwright, best known for Over the Bridge, his first play. His other works include The Evangelist (1961) and the television play, Cemented with Love (1964). A draft of a further play, The Masquerade, set in London, was completed just before his death.

Thompson also wrote several plays for radio which were broadcast by the BBC. They include Brush in Hand (1956), Tommy Baxter, Shop Steward (1957), The General Foreman (1958), The Long Back Street (1959) and The Fairmans: Life in a Belfast Working Family (1960–1).

Thompson spent most of his working life as a painter in the Belfast shipyards, starting aged 14 at Harland and Wolff, and was an active trade unionist all of his life. He also ran for the Northern Ireland Labour Party in the 1964 General Election.

Tickets: £14, £10 concessions – available from the box office on 0844 847 1652 or online at www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/.

Times: Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm; Tuesday matinees at 2pm.

Running Time: Approximately two hours.