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New English-language theatre premieres with Vincent River

10:39 12/10/2021
With the quintessentially London play Vincent River, Brussels’ new English theatre, The Bridge, takes the stage for the first time

Vincent River is a play with just two characters, and their stories are told in just one act. So you will never have to take your eyes off of the middle-aged Anita and the young Davy as they figure each other out, pour more drinks, reveal staggering truths.

This makes for an intimate experience, which is one of the reasons the founders of The Bridge chose it as their first production. The other is that the 2000 piece by British playwright Philip Ridley has human rights at its core.

Vincent River is the exploration of a hate crime,” says Bridge artistic director Edward McMillan, “something that is unfortunately ever-present in our society – even in relatively progressive cities like Brussels. So apart from the human aspect, I felt that this was a play that needed to be shown, so that we as citizens can be more aware of the dangers faced by marginalised communities – and maybe even become their allies.”

Vincent River premieres on 20 October in the theatre at Full Circle House in Ixelles. It will be performed in the round, with the stage in the middle of the audience.

Rehearsals of Vincent RiverRehearsals of Vincent River. ‘It’s a play with two very likeable protagonists,’ says McMillan

“The whole play is set in Anita’s cramped apartment in East London,” explains McMillan, “and we wanted to make the audience feel like they are there, in the apartment with these two characters, kind of unable to escape. It’s a chance to see these two incredible actors really up close. They will just be one metre away from the audience.”

The actors are Jo Castleton, well known from many National Theatre productions in London, and Jake McDaid of the David Glass Ensemble in Bath. They are currently rehearsing in London together with McMillan and the play’s director, Robert Chevara.

While McMillan realises that there is plenty of talent in Belgium, he wanted to do all he could to maintain Vincent River’s atmosphere. The play is “very contextualised to East London,” he says. “We decided we needed actors who are familiar with this context and who can effortlessly become an ‘Eastender’. In the future, we’re open to anything. It depends on the play and the specific context.”

The Bridge – run by McMillan and Éva Kamarás, who acts as strategic director – is already busy planning its future with a kind of “live the life you want” mentality. Launched just this year, its first professional production is Vincent River, following a summer acting course for teenagers and with a musical theatre day coming up next month.

A Bridge Across Europe

“We aim to establish a permanent home for English-language theatre in Brussels,” says McMillan, “a space where we can run professional productions and also community-participation activities. As soon as we have this, we’ll be able to launch a first season of productions.”

They are already planning the first – and second – seasons, and are looking at overarching themes for both. “Each season will be curated according to a specific theme or topic. For the first season, we foresee the theme A Bridge Across Europe, and we’ve selected different plays that would fit this category. And we are also thinking already about a second season, which would be A Bridge Across Worlds. We’d be looking a bit wider than Europe, and perhaps into the heavens as well.”

While The Bridge is based in Brussels, the intention is to build bridges, if you will, to the rest of Europe. “We’re looking to utilise the wide talent pool that we have across Europe, across the single market for labour,” he says, “and really draw on the talent that we find both locally in Brussels but also wider as well.”

Vincent River is “a springboard,” continues McMillan. “It’s a taste of what we hope to do in the future if there’s sufficient appetite and support.”

Edward McMillan, co-founder of The BridgeWith a background in London theatre, Edward McMillan is the brainchild behind The Bridge

While an army of volunteers have proven that many people in Brussels are behind the idea, it remains to be seen if ticket buyers will respond as enthusiastically. Not to mention grant-making organisations.

But, while McMillan and Kamarás are engaged in conversations with the regions and municipalities concerning subsidies – the language requirements that prevented previous attempts to secure funding for an English theatre has apparently relaxed somewhat – they are casting their funding net wider, looking into B2B partnerships and proxy loan schemes.

The non-profit organisation is also open to donations, of course, and have a list of ‘founding patrons’ who are keen to help launch the initiative. “And then we have a pool of creatives and teachers and stage managers who we can turn to for different projects,” says McMillan. “They are giving us their time generously to help us with planning or communications – wherever we can use their set of skills. Having said that, we’re always excited to meet people who are interested in getting involved.”

Vincent River runs from 20 October to 13 November at 17.00 and 20.00 at Full Circle House, Chaussée de Vleurgat 89, Ixelles. Tickets are pay what you can, starting at €15


Written by Lisa Bradshaw