Arts, Venue

Bridges by Claire Sullivan

Bridges is a brutally honest portrayal of mental illness. A bridge might seem like a slightly cliched metaphor when it comes to the complex areas of life that we all navigate at some point. But Sullivan dismantles the long-flogged bridge peddled by therapists and councillors and builds a new one out of the wreckage. One of resilient acceptance grounded in stoic thought and self-control. It is not without emotion that this happens though. We are given a tender insight into what life is like for many people who struggle under pressure. And in doing so, the piece forced us to examine our own experiences under Sullivan’s gaze.

Claire Sullivan is a self-described ‘slogger’ as mentioned in her work. Beginning with a bridge crossing, she describes the slogger’s disposition to the world as perhaps slightly fearful, but resolute, placing one foot in front of the other. Always going for the next goal. As a 3rd year scriptwriting and performance student from UEA, Sullivan’s education has clearly given her the ability to think critically about the world. In Bridges, we see a clever reversal of this application and deconstruction that we students learn. The superb twist with Bridges, is that the spotlight here is turned back onto education itself. Specifically, the pressure that is inherent in all levels of education and what it can do to young people.

What Bridges does specifically, has to do with unlocking the place where pressure, a truly life changing pressure, starts to affect many people. For many this all starts with GCSE’s. It is rare that we stop to consider, when did all these feelings begin? Sullivan asks us to stop and look at the way we feel from a different angle. Why must we always be moving forward without question, without appreciation, for the present moment and what we have achieved so far?

In this sense, Bridges offers its own form of therapeutic practise. Sullivan’s examination of mental health issues goes right back to the formative years of pressure and responsibility. The stress of exams and the future comes at the most unstable time of many of our lives. For those of us who carry on, perhaps regrettably with education, we forget how we felt when this pressure is forced upon us because for many of us it has been constant since then. This is when the pain of perfectionism begins for sloggers like Sullivan. This pain is explored in depth, quite obviously with the eye of a perfectionist.

In Sullivan’s voice, there is a welcome honesty and at times raw emotion. It is clear this is somebody who has thought long and hard about the articulation of her experiences and processing of emotions. We are shown how a relentless drive for perfection can be transformed into a drive to appreciate the small, the day to day, that leads to the recovery of a sense of self. Something which can easily be lost in the waves of assessments, deadlines, and exams. Which is a valuable lesson that many of us could learn. Bridges tells us that it’s OK to occasionally not be making moves forward across the bridge, but to just stop and acknowledge where we are, and appreciate it for what it is.

Overall, Bridges is an exceptionally well written and performed piece that offers us the time to stop and consider how we approach the pressures of life and why. It is something to which we can all intimately relate. But of course, we must wonder, with Sullivan’s self-described disposition as a ‘slogger’ what comes next now that this bridge is crossed?

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Jack Warren

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July 2022
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