Review: Verdensteatret's Bridge Over Mud Sep 23, 2016

by Koushik Ghosh

Verdensteatret’s Bridge Over Mud begins with the same intention as the Annunciation but is different from the Latin version of Gabriel’s announcement to Virgin Mary. It begins, however, with the announcement of the arrival of glorious life. 

The screen on the left wakes up to light, light reflected by a primordial mud, somewhat mercurial in texture and color, moving in protoplasmic gestures, towards a unity of some sort.

While one can sense something akin to life taking shape on a small corner of the stage, leaving everything else to the mercy of ancient darkness, it does not mimic biology, mitosis, and cell division, but begins with a delicate addition that enables us to recognize shapes such as a mouth or eyes, which slowly form a recognizable face. A sudden rupture begins to deconstruct the shape that is familiar to new shapes that exist more singularly, more independently than a mammalian face, such as the kidney bean.

Hold a mirror to yourself and look at your ears only, or the upper lip, or the lower (if you are particular) and you will indeed see that your face is but a bundle of beans, all emanating from MUD. And during this journey, we call life, we bridge this mud. 

Thus the epic begins. Soon after life takes shape, a new sequence animates the screen to the right, which wakes up to industrial motion, now that life has arrived. We observe a visual of slow-moving, intimate, industrial life of the early 20th century or a version of it that is still available in Cuba or Kolkata (Calcutta) in the 21st, where yellow taxicabs, those faded sunflowers of October, parade demurely over cobbled stones, towards certainties and destinations, obediently, in perfect order and modest glory, inviting us to a nostalgia for all that faded with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

While Bridge Over Mud invites the audience to the Brechtian imagination of epic theater, it is the social realism of Ibsen, which breathes life into the scenes with the audio, which was mostly recorded in Kolkata. The audio spills through the piece like waves over concrete barriers, defying containment, inviting the audience to a free associative experience, of space, memory, time. 

Brecht relied on the principle of Verfremdungseffekt ("defamiliarization effect"). “Bridge Over Mud,” in a similar vein, strips the singular events of birth, to the glorious culmination of industrial life, of familiarity. As taxicabs and railways roll (there are miles of it on stage, meticulously put together) the audience is invited to participate in the construction of the performance space.

Verdensteatret also adds a new twist to this Brechtian principle by blending technologies to create a deep multimedia experience while remaining deeply nostalgic and melancholic. The experience culminates in cascading garlands.

Maybe that mud that took the shape of a face once would still be greeted with cascading garlands of flowers at the end, even if we did not lay tracks to reach our preferred destinies or built bridges?