Plans have been unveiled for a brand new live show opening in January in which the top-of-the-bill main role will go to the heaviest-weight star ever to appear on a Bristol stage – Clifton Suspension Bridge.
WALKING THE CHAINS, a circus-theatre play with music, will get its world premiere staging from Tuesday 13 to Sunday 25 January in the apt setting of the historic Passenger Shed at Temple Meads Station, also designed by the bridge’s engineer: Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The play is the latest commission for ACH Smith, whose previous stage and screen credits include the Bristol Old Vic hit about Bristol docks, UP THE FEEDER DOWN THE MOUTH. Like his docks play, WALKING THE CHAINS combines history, legend and recent day anecdotes to tell the long and lively story of the bridge, which is about to become the centre-piece of a year of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of its opening in December 1864.
Contributors of first-hand testimony to the script include sweethearts who chose the bridge for marriage proposals and the Bristolians who have experienced ‘walking the chains’ – the phrase used by the maintenance crew to describe their work 245 feet (75m) and more above the river Avon.
To capture the audacity of the bridge – from concept to construction and from completion to how it is seen and used today – a professional company of actor, singers, musicians and circus performers is being put together, in association with Bristol’s Show of Strength Theatre Company and the UK centre for contemporary circus with physical theatre, Circomedia, based in Kingswood and St Paul’s.
The director of the show will be University of Bristol drama graduate Robin Belfield, who last worked with Show on Strength on its acclaimed TRADE IT? production and who has also worked for the National Theatre and with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He says: “This play celebrates the best of Bristol invention and innovation and so it’s fitting to be working in partnership with some of Bristol’s most creative organisations. Show of Strength Theatre company, Bristol’s champions of new writing, and Circomedia, one of the UK’s most prestigious circus-performer training schools; working together to create an exciting show that really does celebrate the best Bristol has to offer – breathtaking engineering and vibrant creativity.”
Tickets for the show are on sale now from the box office at Colston Hall – telephone 0844 887 1500 or book online via www.colstonhall.org . Seats are priced from £12 to £24 plus a 50p booking fee (with £2 discounts, for students, pensioners and State benefit claimants and a £10 a seat preview on Sunday 11 January).
As well as evening and afternoon shows for audiences aged 8+, there will also be two free matinees for local schoolchildren.
Backers of the production include Butcombe Ales, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Wessex Water and Arts Council England (ACE).
Explaining ACE’s funding SW Regional Director, Phil Gibby says: ‘We are excited to be supporting this extraordinary theatre event that celebrates the history of Bristol. The project takes inspiration from the risk and dedication of the workers who built the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge to create an innovative and unique fusion of theatre, circus and music, reaching a wide range of audiences and encouraging community pride. We look forward to seeing the performance in January.’
WALKING THE CHAINS is a not-for-profit initiative of the specially-formed community interest company, Walking The Chains, being staged in association with Show of Strength and Circomedia. Any profits from the production will be shared among local charities.