Arts / Play bridges the past and present

Geraldine Turner and Peter Cook in “The Chain Bridge”. Photo by Lorna Sim
Geraldine Turner and Peter Cook in “The Chain Bridge”. Photo by Lorna Sim
THE huge suspension bridge known as the Chain Bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest in Hungary has long been seen as a bridge between East and West but now, in a play coming to The Street Theatre, it takes on a new layer of meaning.

Australian playwright Tom Davis has written a play of epic dimensions called “The Chain Bridge”. His fourth stage work, it is the first to be produced by The Street, developed through The Street’s “Hive” and “First Seen” programs and it is the result of an effort to “write a play that I’d want to watch”.

The bridge is between present in the past, but according to actor Peter Cook, who plays the main character Imre, that “epic-ness” is set within the framework of an almost Chekhovian style dinner party in inner-city Melbourne.

Briefly, Imre has been working on a book for eight years about his own family story, getting information from his mother, Eva (Geraldine Turner) who lived through the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, but he can’t finish the book because he doesn’t know what’s real and fears someone is hiding something.

History, in Imre’s words, “is just memory and empathy”. But as a writer, he must get to the truth. Over the course of a fairly bad dinner, he and his wife Sarah (Kate Hosking) prod at Eva and her Hungarian friends Joszef and Katalin (PJ Williams and Zsuzsi Soboslay) to arrive at the truth, but it’s not easy.

“Growing up without a father, Imre is torn between his wife and his mother,” Cook says.

In his view, the play is not about the past, but about how the children of immigrants are affected by their parents’ memories.

“The audience will hook into it, it’s about stories and how much we are connected to our family histories,” he says, adding that “everyone struggles with that in Australia, because we are an immigration and immigrant nation with lots of people who have fled wars”.

Playing the emotional life of a character like this is a challenge for the actor.

“You really have to play this character moment to moment,” he says. Luckily, there is some relief, as he and his fellow actors in fact get to play 23 characters across eight decades. Cook, for instance, slips in and out of the role of a German SS officer.

Street director Caroline Stacey, who’s directing, has engaged star creatives Imogen Keen, Kimmo Vennonen and Gillian Schwab to make it all happen. Cook’s been learning bits of Hungarian and how to tango. As well, he’s very comfortable in Canberra, as his sister and family live here and he’s worked at the theatre before.

“It’s absolutely got my full attention. It’s all consuming, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – you couldn’t ask for a better gig as an actor,” Cook says.

“The Chain Bridge”, The Street Theatre, November 21-29, bookings to 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au

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Helen Musa
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