Over The Bridge

by Sam Thompson

Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 28, 29, 30 April, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14 May 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?”

The first London production in over 50 years of the classic Ulster play

The first GB production in over fifty years of the classic Ulster sectarian drama, Over The Bridge by Sam Thompson, opens at the Finborough Theatre for a limited run of nine Sunday and Monday evening and Tuesday matinee performances.

Set in the Belfast Shipyard of the 1950s and against the backdrop of the IRA’s Border Campaign, Sam 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.

About The Playwright Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson (1916-1965) was a seminal Northern Irish playwright, best known for his first play, Over the Bridge (1957). The play was first staged in Belfast in 1960, in the troubled aftermath of the Ulster Group Theatre’s decision to withdraw it for production. The play went on to have runs in Dublin, Brighton and London. Thompson’s other plays 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 wrote several plays for radio which were broadcast by the BBC including Brush in Hand (1956),Tommy Baxter, Shop Steward (1957),The General Foreman (1958),The Long Back Street (1959),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.

About The Director Emma Faulkner

Emma Faulkner received the 2010 Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme bursary in association with The Young Vic. Her directing includes 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 Mracle (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). Associate Direction includes Sunshine on Leith (National Tour). As Assistant Director, she has assisted Alan Ayckbourn on Taking Steps and other credits include Sleeping Beauty; A Doll’s House (Dundee Rep), Alison’s House, Spring Shakespeare, The Lady or the Tiger and The Ring of Truth (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond). She is also a script reader for the National Theatre of Scotland and Tinderbox.

The Press on Director Emma Faulkner

“Urgent … and so well performed that it should not be missed” ★★★★★ Five Stars, WhatsOnStage on After the End

“Dennis Kelly’s script is realized skillfully here … an absorbing and sharply delivered exploration of human behaviour pushed to extremes” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Independent on After the End

“A fine production” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Scotsman on After the End

“A tense intriguing debate … immaculately performed” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Scotsman on Forfeit

“A pleasure… Faulkner has polished it up nicely, too...sustaining the serio-comic mood right up to the hilariously blithe, cynical ending.” The Times on The Ruffian on the Stair

“Worth crossing London to see.. played with such finesse” British Theatre Guide on The Ruffian on the Stair

Cultural Commentators on Over The Bridge

"At last the unclean spirit of sectarianism had been dragged before the floodlights and examined with passion, pity and corrosive laughter" Sam Hanna Bell in Causeway: The Arts in Ulster

"A landmark in the cultural history of Northern Ireland and ... prophetic of the Troubles to follow;" James McAleavey in Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook

"A powerful indictment of the failure of labour politics against religious fundamentalism." Lance Pettitt in Screening Ireland: Film and Television Representation

"Sam Thompson changed the face of Ulster theatre and influenced later playwrights...It is a mark of Sam Thompson’s importance to Northern Irish drama that everything he wrote caused frissons of alarm among the sensitive members of our ruling class." John Keyes

The Press on Over The Bridge

“This production of Over the Bridge is the first in London for over 50 years, and deserves the airing that it receives at the Finborough.” Amy Stow, What’s On Stage

“A powerful play with a strong and timely message.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network 
“From beginning to end, this play was enrapturing.” Sam Thompson, Everything Theatre

“When this classic Ulster drama was first staged in Belfast over 50 years ago, it had already been rejected by the board of the Group Theatre because it “would give rise to sectarianism of an extreme nature”.  A new company, formed by Jimmy Ellis, put it on stage and it played to an audience of 42,000 people during the six-week run, far greater than had attended any play in Belfast previously.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Successfully shows a society where social tensions are interleaved with mixed human motives, building towards the explosive ‘Troubles’ into which the following decade finally collapsed.” Timothy Ramsden, Reviews Gate

“An indictment of the trade unions for failing to deal with sectarian bigotry and violence in the workplace.” Robert Tanitch, British Theatre Guide

“Over the Bridge successfully depicts the horror and frustrations associated with 1950s life in Belfast.” Amy Stow, What’s On Stage

“The fifteen minutes leading up to the attack of a mob on two of the central characters were some of the tensest I’ve ever experienced.” Sam Thompson, Everything Theatre

“Both beautifully written and performed.” Sam Thompson, Everything Theatre

“The Finborough regularly stages Irish plays and this is one of the best...deserves a longer run.” Robert Tanitch, British Theatre Guide

“The quality of some performances are astounding.” Emily Mae Winters, Bargain Theatreland

“A fine ensemble.” Robert Tanitch, British Theatre Guide

“Intensely acted.” Emily Mae Winters, Bargain Theatreland

“The stand-out performances of the evening came from Michael Nielson as Davy Mitchell, Amy Malloy as his daughter Marian and Melanie McHugh as Martha White.” Sam Thompson, Everything Theatre

“Melanie McHugh...commanding, engaging and truthful.” Emily Mae Winters, Bargain Theatreland

“Amy Molloy is fantastic as Marian whose storytelling throughout is spellbinding and completely connected.” Emily Mae Winters, Bargain Theatreland

“Amy Molloy as the daughter of the deceased was heart-wrenchingly believable.” Sam Thompson, Everything Theatre

“Amy Molloy...gives a heartbreaking account of the effect that her father's ongoing unemployment had on her family when she will a little girl.” Amy Stow, What’s On Stage

“Robert Calvert plays Davey Mitchell with conviction and compassion, a hero of the trade union, who risks his life in support of Catholic fellow worker Peter O’Boyle (an outstanding Kevin Murphy).” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Lawrence McGrandles Jnr is the soft spoken but sinister mob leader who refuses to take any responsibility for the actions of the mob. His performance is chilling.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Director Emma Faulkner handles the presentation of alpha-male, testosterone-imbued characters in the play with as much sensitivity as possible.” Amy Stow, What’s On Stage

“Emma Faulkner’s production has an authentic documentary feel and is totally involving.” Robert Tanitch, British Theatre Guide

“There is certainly a mystical ambience pervading the Finborough space as sounds of a shipyard echo in the distance. Credit should first be given to Philip Lindley for the set.  This very small space available is used beautifully from beginning to end.” Emily Mae Winters, Bargain Theatreland

“What the West End needs is a small theatre to which fringe productions of this calibre can transfer.” Robert Tanitch, British Theatre Guide

Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 28, 29, 30 April, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14 May 2013

Tickets and Times

Monday 7:30pm
Tuesday 2:00pm
Sunday 7:30pm