Good things come to those who wait! I hadn’t booked for Young Marx at the brand-new Bridge Theatre for a couple of reasons. I was still hoping that I might get a response to my email to the PR, and despite a cast that includes the splendid Nancy Carroll and the delicious Oliver Chris alongside lead Rory Kinnear, Richard Bean just really isn’t my cup of tea. ‘Don’t you love farce?’ Not much my dear…
So when an email popped into my inbox offering a sneak preview of the show and an opportunity to be the first-ever audience in the theatre for a pre-preview test run of the new venue and its facilities, then I knew it was meant to be. Turns out I do love a farce, at £7.50 a ticket.
First things first, the foyer is extremely spacious and rather beautifully lit. So whilst there were hefty queues at the box office and the bar, there was still plenty of room to mill about, some seats available and a wide enough staircase that, when we finally started going down to the stalls, it wasn’t too much of a crush. Drink prices are pretty much as per any theatre bar, £7.50 for a G&T. The much-vaunted St John madeleines were really not cheap (although to be honest, who knows what the going rate for gourmet madeleines is?!) At £9 for 12 though, it does feel like a deliberate attempt to brand the theatre as upper reaches of upmarket and you wonder what implications that has for access, and particularly for the perception of access from those new audiences theatres long to attract.
Weirdly, the toilets also feel a touch out of place. Very smart and spacious, though I can’t comment on the ladies, posh handwash and individual handtowels point to a more luxurious experience than you’ll be used to in most London theatres – it’ll be interesting to see if these last. And whilst I appreciate the efforts being made to be inclusive, I don’t really understand how this can be a male toilet, and a gender-neutral toilet at the same time. Surely it’d be better to go all the way…? Inside, the theatre certainly boasts an impressive auditorium. In its current end-on configuration, it is somehow reminiscent of both the Olivier and the Dorfman at the same time. And something the seating plan doesn’t show you, there’s a considerable rake on the floor (also worth bearing in mind for accessibility issues if you’re sitting anywhere near the front).
Seats are comfortable, plenty of legroom (in row C of the stalls at least), sightlines are fine and neither of us had any issue there. There doesn’t seem to be a second entrance/exit into the stalls though, so there’s little chance of a quick escape – getting out at the interval and at the end took an age as we had to wait for most of the stalls to empty before we could leave.
But as the auditorium has been designed to be entirely flexible, these are issues that won’t affect every show. And given how phenomenally quickly the building has been constructed, it is a remarkable achievement of which Nicks Hytner and Starr should rightly be proud.
Nick Hytner welcoming us to the theatreAs for the show itself, this was the very first pre-preview so I ain’t going to comment on it, apart from to say if you like Richard Bean plays, then you’re most likely in safe hands.
So a fun evening all round and I’m glad I got to experience the theatre this way for the first time, with its own sort of buzz. I’m still not entirely convinced that what London needs is another new theatre, especially one that feels so directly in competition with the National but who knows, maybe this will be a good thing, a kick up the arse for the theatre ecology on the South Bank, in London, maybe even in the UK as a whole. Welcome to the Bridge!