Once Upon a Bridge

Photograph: Emilija Jefremova

Once Upon a Bridge by Sonya Kelly – Druid Theatre online

There are three characters in Sonya Kelly’s new play, streamed by Druid Theatre: the jogger (Aaron Monaghan), the woman (Siobhán Cullen) and the bus driver (Adetomiwa Edun). They are the protagonists in a real life incident from 2017, when a woman walking over Putney Bridge was barged into the road by a man running past and narrowly escaped going under a bus. The video footage remains in the minds of all those who saw it on the news, but the man was never found and no-one knows why he did it, or why he ran on. Kelly makes an excellent job of opening up the lives of those involved, examining who they might have been and what the incident, over in a moment, did to them.

We hear monologues from each in turn. Cullen’s character is young, Irish, and on her way to a job interview. For her, the casual brutality of her near-death experience is sign that London is not on her side. Monaghan’s jogger is a high-flying financial analyst, fighting for promotion and resentful of women he thinks are taking his place. Kelly suggest, cleverly, that the identity of a man whose photograph was published everywhere remained hidden because his colleagues simply suppressed it, taking their own measures rather than going to the police. The private justice of those in powerful positions make as likely an explanation for what happened as anything. The most interesting character is, perhaps, Edun’s bus driver concerned with his boss, his timetable and the job he needs to support his family. He is haunted by how, if he had not swerved to avoid Cullen, his life would have fallen apart.

The performances are strong, and the monologue format of Kelly’s play makes for an excellent piece of online drama. Her writing is a fine example of the role dramatists play in poring over moments that seem to have a particular significance for the times we live in, showing us what they mean and why they matter. She uses the Putney Bridge incident to peel apart the levels of inequality that make up a modern metropolis, and the distorted power relations – gender, race, class and money – that allow a man to decide, in a split second, that a stranger’s life has no value.

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