I went to see Old Bridge at Bush Theatre.

Presented in the Holloway Theatre, arranged in the 3-sided configuration. Masking is still recommended but not compulsory and ticket-holders no longer allocated to distanced positions. My pictures of the set before the start can just about show the stacked structures which serve as elevated positions as well as hiding places in a flat.

The story is set in Mostar in Bosnia, from 1988 through the war of the early 90s. Dates are not stated explicitly and there is no attempt to fill in the high politics of the time with headlines or announcements. No actual leaders or public figures are mentioned by name.

4 young actors play 4 young friends living in the town during the time: Mina, Leila, Sasha, and Mili. There is also a narrator who is identified as the older version of Mina, looking back on the terrible period. Although she talks in a novelistic style that turns into extended monologues, the younger actors talk exactly like contemporary British youth of 2021 in a way that seems perfectly natural. Of course teenagers in 1988 did not have smartphones and the related slang, and there is a sly joke about this: Mili takes a selfie with Mina using a polaroid camera, but they have no special term for the experience of taking self-portraits in that way.

The group have different ethnic backgrounds, but that is not an issue between them at the start, nor in the town at large. As the years go by, violence and division increases, and they catch each other out when the increasing atmosphere of tension and prejudice starts infecting their own attitudes. Life becomes explosive and dangerous.

There is not exactly a happy ending for these characters, but there is some limited reconciliation in Mostar and we see it represented at the end.

I remember reading about the political upheavals in Yugoslavia in 1988 as it was a fairly big story even in the early days: political troubles in any communist state didn’t get reported so well and was quite a novelty until the ruptures at the end of 1989.

The picture at the top is the image of the Old Bridge itself after it was bombed in 1993.

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