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A Giant on the Bridge


There’s a particular reason for this. Whenever I write, I’m prone to the tendency – almost entirely unhelpful but, I suspect, weirdly common among those who elect to put their work in the public domain – to feel a pervasive sense of low-level dread at the thought of anybody actually reading it.

This feeling is exacerbated whenever I have reason to read back over an old piece. Any salient points, well-turned phrases or moderately funny jokes are skimmed past, while the bits that make me cringe are subjected to repeated and microscopically close readings.

I do realise how nonsensical this is. Everyone can call something to mind – or, more likely, countless things – that they wish they’d said or done differently. But if you’re going to foster a regret over several years, at least make it about something more consequential than a clunky gag about Cheesy Wotsits that few people read at the time and literally nobody will remember now.

And what, you might reasonably ask, does this have to do with reviews? Well, if the notion of an anonymous person reading my stuff causes me pain, imagine how I’d feel about it being read by someone whose own work I’d directly criticised, however mildly. Especially when so much of my working life has been spent in hospitality and the arts, two fields in which a bad review, and the word of mouth effect that follows, really can spell the end of a business, production or career.

I’m not cut out for that. If I ever did try to write a proper review, it would be couched in so many caveats and pre-emptive apologies as to be virtually unreadable and actually useless. Inedible meal? I might have caught them on a bad night. Dreadful, pretentious, incomprehensible play? Perhaps I missed some subtle but vital point at the very start that would have made the next three hours make perfect sense. Four stars, just in case.

All of which means that the only circumstance in which I can comfortably write about somebody else’s work is when I’m so blown away by it that I’ve no reason to say anything critical about it at all – just an instinct to spread the word. And with that in mind, here’s my non-review of A Giant on the Bridge at the Traverse.

I’ll admit to having gone along with only a sketchy idea of what to expect. But I did know the musicians involved: Kim Grant (Raveloe), Jill O’Sullivan, Solareye, Louis Abbott, Jo Mango. All different in style – strikingly so in some cases – yet coming together in a way that wasn’t merely coherent, but genuinely special.

In so doing, they were joining a collaborative tradition that has become an essential and defining element of Scotland’s independent music scene. Projects such as Ballads of the Book, Burnsong, the Fruit Tree Foundation and Hen Hoose, along with any number of less formal collaborations, have brought creators together across genres, styles and forms. The results have often been surprising, moving and unique. And if there have been any real duds, I must have missed them.

A Giant on the Bridge takes that spirit of collaboration a stage further. It’s the product not just of the artists who took the stage, but of public and academic institutions, in particular Vox Liminis and the Distant Voices project. And it’s also the product – and story – of people within, or affected by, the criminal justice system, including the frequently forgotten ones on the outside. At its heart is the power of the human imagination, with all its capacity for doubt, regret and fear, but also for hope, redemption and restoration.

Each artist portrays a different character within a set of interconnected stories: prisoner D (Solareye), counting the days to his impending release; his twin sister June (Jill), caring for his daughter at home; and Clem (Jo), who assists prisoners and their families with letter-writing, and is familiar with and deeply affected by D and June’s situation.

There’s a narrator (Kim) taking us through an apparent fairy tale that turns out to be much more closely linked to the other stories than is initially apparent. Then there’s Louis (er, Louis), who conducts songwriting workshops in prisons. Which is also what the non-fictional Louis has been doing, along with several others, over the past few years. And the songs we hear are inspired by – and in many cases, the products of – these real life sessions.

It’s a terrific, warm-hearted production that brings together some of the best songwriting talent around. And it’s particularly timely. As arts funding gets squeezed ever further, organisations that receive support find themselves under constant pressure to justify it. And initiatives that treat criminal justice as anything more than a blunt instrument of punishment will always have their detractors. There may even have been some among the packed audience when the show began. But I don’t think there were many by the end. ■

Traverse Theatre, March 2024

Info: The plan is for musical theatre auteurs KT Producing to develop A Giant on the Bridge further prior to an Edinburgh Festival Fringe run

L/R: Solareye, Jo Mango, Kim Grant, Louis Abbott, Jill O’Sullivan. Photograph by KT Producing


In so doing, they join a collaborative tradition that includes the likes of Ballads of the Book, Burnsong, Fruit Tree Foundation and Hen Hoose


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