This week’s Where Do We Go Next, comprising six short plays, was supposed to mark the theatre’s swansong before it shut up shop to give way to the redevelopment of its site. It is undoubtedly a massive loss to London’s theatre ecology. Because of Covid-19 the six plays have moved on-line, and you can purchase the lot for £7 on Vimeo. Proceeds go to support the artists, and I can tell you it’s an absolute bargain.
There is a lot of free theatre work on-line, but this is well worth the money not just because artists cannot live on air alone, and like all of us need to find ways to put bread and wine on the table, but also because the plays have been curated and directed with both care and flair by Caitriona Shoobridge. The sound design by Benjamin Grant is always nifty too. But you will have to get your skates on as the last day for new rentals is Sunday, although you then have a week to view.
The Bunker has proved itself an essential space for giving a platform to marginalised voices and bodies and these six plays do just that. They often skewer theatre itself, but not in a navel-gazing way, and ask fierce questions about who gets a chance to speak in theatre and the role theatre might play as an agent for change.
Adam Hughes’ Fucked is a sharply funny monologue delivered by off-camera dramaturg Sophie (Sophie Steer) talking at hapless working-class playwright Adam (Jake Davies) whose play has been accepted for production at her new writing theatre. “So raw, so real!” exclaims Sophie, “you’ve opened up a world I never knew existed,” as she sets about getting that world rewritten to suit her own middle-class view of working-class lives.
We never see Sophie, but the camera is always fixed on Adam who over several months and meetings starts to wilt as surely as the flowers on the table next to him as his voice is taken away from him. Hughes uses comedy like an expertly aimed Exocet missile.
The Writers, Where do we go next? at the Bunker Theatre.
Kat Woods’ The Feevs, performed by Sophie Hill with a startling intensity, gets right under your skin. It is about a young Irish woman trying to make her way in the arts world who is constantly under-mined by the privilege around her, her own sense of worth as “a council estate povo with shite grammar.” She is further ambushed by her period and is without the money to buy tampons on the day of an important meeting that might give her the break she so desperately needs.
There is lots here that reminds of Scottee’s Class in the way it holds up the precariousness of working-class lives and the legacies of growing up poor and in violence. But Woods has her own distinctive voice as she talks of an elderly woman with “trauma chiselled into her face like ice age formations” and the cameras lingers on Hill’s face in a way that is so exposing you almost want to look away.
Abraham Adeyemi’s Hangman is briefer still, but also very effective and cunningly filmed as it presents us with a young man (Simon Manyonda) doing an exam which takes the form of a game of hangman. A disembodied voice, both like that undermining whisper in your head and the embodiment of structural inequalities, keeps untruthfully suggesting that anyone can make it if they work hard enough. Because this game is rigged. Even when the game is won the young man will always feel that he’s lost. That’s just the way it is.
Nessah Muthy’s May I, Speak-er? comes with a terrific performance from Witney White and a playful and poetic use of language that recalls both Debbie Tucker Green and Caryl Churchill. Charley Miles’ monologue Same Again about a villager trying to stop the buyout of the local village pub has a nice turn of phrase too, not least in the way it describes Twitter as “the anus of opinions.” Like Miles’ terrific Blackthorn this is haunted by rural decline and the gap between how the countryside really is and its idyllic image. What the potential pub management wants is maximum “authenticity” but not too many locals with dirty boots.
Last, but definitely not least, comes Matilda Ibini’s Keys which is a bit like a love-hate letter to theatre crossed with a Ted Talk. Ibini celebrates the power of daydreaming and asks whether our imaginations can be weaponised. Keys is a call to arms which sees theatre as a tool to challenge existing structures and bring about necessary change. It’s how the Bunker has seen itself under Chris Sonnex too. Keys reminds that the Bunker’s work is far from done. The key to continuing it sits within us all. We just have to reach for it.
You can rent all six films and stream for a week here.