Rush performance for Young Marx
We caught a rush performance of Young Marx with Rory Kinnear, and a first look at the spanking new Bridge Theatre ahead of the start of next week's previews.
How could I resist the offer to be one of the first members of the public to be allowed into The Bridge Theatre to savour this newly fitted-out addition to London's theatre scene?
For a mere £7-50, I got a stalls ticket, 6 rows from the stage for the very first performance in this new venue, and the first public performance of the first show to play at the theatre, Young Marx.
The Bridge Theatre is the brainchild of the team that ran the National Theatre not that long ago - Nicholas Hytner and Nick Star - who formed the London Theatre Company on leaving the National.
Their focus is on commissioning and producing new shows, as well as staging occasional classics.
The Bridge Theatre is a new 900-seat auditorium that is capable of providing different stage layouts (end-stage, thrust-stage and promenade) depending on the needs of productions.
It is the first new theatre of this size to appear in London's commercial theatre sector in around 80 years.
The Bridge was designed by Steve Tompkins and Roger Watts of Haworth Tompkins Architects (winner of the 2014 Stirling Prize).
Lying almost at the end of London's famous landmark, Tower Bridge, the theatre sits at the back of a small open area which nestles right next to the Thames.
It's a stone's throw from the open air theatre space, The Scoop, which each year offers free theatre to anyone who cares to stop by and watch.
Though the prices at The Bridge Theatre were cheap on this occasion (and another rush performance due next Tuesday) don't expect prices will always be this cheap, even if the standard prices are not in the same league as usual West End tickets.
The theatre is maybe a 10 minute walk from London Bridge station - but that may well depend on your walking speed.
Walking down the embankment from London Bridge, the theatre is on the right just past London City Hall.
The name of the theatre is displayed in big, bold, red letters on the external facade of the building, but it's a little hard to see it right now from the embankment because the name is obscured somewhat by trees.
Still, it's not difficult to find.
In the foyer
Automatic revolving doors allow access into the foyer - but first you'll need to undergo the inevitable bag checks.
Inside the very large foyer, there's a bar and box office on the right.
I had already printed my ticket, so didn't need to collect it.
And my next port of call was the bar since, not having to write a review, I felt like wetting the new baby's head.
Sadly, the queues at the bar were frustratingly overwhelming and I decided to avoid the scrum.
Now the whole aim of the two 'rush performances' that the theatre organised was to test how the new venue worked with an actual audience, and a full one at that.
I suspect the staff and management have now learned a thing or two after the first performance.
In particular, they're going to have speed-up the process of buying drinks - otherwise there will be many people like me who won't buy any.
But, on the ground floor level and the lower level where we enter the stalls, there are handy taps with plastic cups for cool water - a nice touch for those who don't want to drink alcohol, can't afford drinks or who just need to slake their thirst.
Though the foyer is very large, with a full house arriving it was already packed by the time I entered the theatre at 7-25pm for the 7-45pm curtain-up, and progress through the masses was rather slow.
Because of the large number of people, I couldn't see how to get to the stalls and assumed (wrongly) that they might be found at the back of the foyer.
But that was a dead-end since it gave access only to the upper galleries.
Wandering around, I eventually found a staircase near the front of the foyer which was the way to the stalls.
I didn't see any signage pointing to the stalls entrance when I arrived, though it may have been obscured by the large gathering of people.
There's a wide staircase leading down to the stalls entrance and at the bottom of it there's another area with ledges on the walls where you can place drinks while you're waiting to go into the auditorium.
I encountered a large queue at the bottom of the staircase which took a while to clear, but once at the entrance door to the stalls the electronic process of ticket-checking was fast and efficient.
I've never actually been in the first audience at a new theatre before, so this was a special and rather exciting occasion as I suspect it was for many other members of the audience too.
The auditorium is hugely impressive and, as you can imagine, has the aroma of newness you might find in a furniture shop.
The management and architects have eschewed carpeting for what looks like some kind of plastic flooring - sensible I would think, given that people are used to taking drinks into a show, and often spill liquid onto the floor.
Galleries surround the large stalls area - at least in its current configuration, because the theatre is designed to be used in various set-ups: end-stage, thrust-stage and promenade.
Here's the end-stage format which is how the theatre is set-up for Young Marx:
Image: The Bridge Theatre
And we'll see another format for the auditorium when The Bridge's Julius Caesar hits the venue next January when, according to Nicholas Hytner, there will be more galleries opened up and the stage will thrust its way further into the stalls area.
Regular theatre-goers will be familiar with the near stifling conditions in some theatres - particular in the summer.
But it looks like The Bridge is air-conditioned and the temperature, just slightly on the cool side, felt just right and stayed that way right through the show, even with 900+ souls in the room and masses of lights working.
The seats are robustly sturdy, giving a comfortable sitting position and made partly of an orange(ish) material and what looks like leather edging.
Where I was sitting, the leg room was more than ample - but I'm not exactly tall.
Still, the legroom is generous and I could easily move around, cross my legs and fidget without any restrictions to my movements - full marks for the seats then.
In the galleries, the seats are angled so that when you're sitting down you're looking at the acting area and not straight ahead to the opposite gallery - so no craning necks to watch the action.
And the seats are similarly angled at the edge of the stalls where I was sitting, and looking between the heads of the two people directly in front of me, I had a perfect and uninterrupted view of the entire stage.
However, when I was booking my ticket online, I noticed that a few seats are marked 'restricted view', which seems a little odd for a brand new theatre, given technological advances in design and architecture.
So, if you're booking tickets for future shows, just pay attention to the handy i icon on the seat plans to see which seats don't have perfect views.
As the show was about to start, Nicholas Hytner came on stage to welcome us as the first audience.
On hand was a photographer to take a shot or two of the audience for posterity - and you can find one of them here.
Now I'm not going to write a review of the performance as it's not even in previews yet.
But I think I can say that, even for a pre-preview performance, it went extremely well, with no major hitches and, as such, a credit to the professionality of both cast and crew.
And, come the curtain calls, the audience was more than ready to show its appreciation.
But, for a more detailed analysis of the first show at this spanking brand new theatre, you'll have to wait for the official press night.
Now, I made no effort to do some journalistic snooping during my visit - I just wanted to experience the new venue as an ordinary theatre-goer would.
And, apart from the crowds at the bar and in the foyer in general, the experience was both relaxing and enjoyable.
Comfortable seats, generous legroom, well-functioning (but not so overly spacious) toilets, a great view of the action and a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere, plus a free cloakroom means the venue is certainly on the right track to providing Londoners and visitors to the capital with fantastic entertainment in a terrific setting.
If you're thinking of seeing The Bridge Theatre's first production, here's a little about the show ...
1850, and Europe's most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho.
Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.
Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures.
His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway.
But there's still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.
Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels.
The production reunites the creative team behind Richard Bean's smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, with direction by Nicholas Hytner, design by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting by Mark Henderson.
Young Marx will also be broadcast by National Theatre Live on 7 December 2017.
August Von Willich - Nicholas Burns
Jenny Von Westphalen - Nancy Carroll
Friedrich Engels - Oliver Chris
Helene 'Nym' Demuth - Laura Elphinstone
Conrad Schramm - Eben Figueiredo
Gert 'Doc' Schmidt - Tony Jayawardena
Mr Grabiner/Constable Singe - Scott Karim
Karl Marx - Rory Kinnear
Mrs Mullet - Alana Ramsey
Librarian - Sophie Russell
Helmut - Fode Simbo
Constable Crimp - William Troughton
Sergeant Savage - Joseph Wilkins
Mr Fleece/Bearded Man - Duncan Wisbey
Emmanuel Barthélemy - Miltos Yerolemou
Guido "Fawksey" Marx - Logan Clark
Guido "Fawksey" Marx - Rupert Turnbull
Guido "Fawksey" Marx - Joseph Walker
Jenny Caroline "Qui Qui" Marx - Dixie Egerickx
Jenny Caroline "Qui Qui" Marx - Matilda Shapland
Jenny Caroline "Qui Qui" Marx - Harriet Turnbull
Writers - Richard Bean And Clive Coleman
Director - Nicholas Hytner
Designer - Mark Thompson
Lighting - Mark Henderson
Sound - Paul Arditti
Music - Grant Olding
Fight Director - Kate Waters
The Bridge Theatre
3 Potters Fields Park
London, SE1 2SG
Dates for Young Marx
18 October to 31 December 2017
The show will be broadcast by National Theatre Live on 7 December 2017
Previews and midweek matinees:
£55, £40, £30, £20, £15
Main run (exc midweek matinees):
£65, £50, £35, £25, £15
A limited number of premium tickets are also available.
No fees for online bookings or bookings made in person at The Bridge.
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