Under the artistic directorship of Chris Sonnex, the Bunker – winner of fringe theatre of the year at The Stage Awards – has made a significant impact on London’s theatre scene. Its closure was scheduled for the end of March as its home – a former car park in Southwark – was due to be redeveloped, something that gives an added poignancy to the fact that it had to close early because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The last few weeks of programming saw the space opened up to a variety of writers and artists, to make the work they wanted to make, tell the stories they wanted to tell, a typically generous gesture. Where Do We Go Next?, the final project in this Takeover season, consists of a curated programme of six short filmed plays that explore the entrenched imbalances in theatre. Originally due to be screened in the venue, they have been released online for what would have been the theatre’s last week.
Curated and directed by Caitriona Shoobridge, the sextet of plays vary in tone and style but they’re connected by the questions they ask about whose stories get told on stage and who gets to tell them.
Kat Woods’ intense monologue The Feevs is the most palpably angry piece, railing against the assumptions about financial security that are prevalent in the industry, the failure to comprehend that people have working commitments they can’t just drop and how an unexpected expense – a train ticket, a box of tampons – can be devastating.
The protagonist, played by Sophie Hill, veers between frustration, resignation and pain, between trying to practise “mindfulness fuckery” to grappling with imposter syndrome as she worries people will see the menstrual leakage on her leggings.
Abraham Adeyemi’s Hangman and Nessah Muthy’s May I, Speak-er? are shorter and sharper. In Adeyemi’s play, which takes the form of a game of hangman, a young man discovers that however hard he tries he cannot win. In Muthy’s poetic text, language is jagged and fragmented.
Charley Miles’ monologue Same Again about a man trying to stop the buyout of the local village pub is full of a similar sense of resignation, that the odds are stacked against you, that whatever you do, however hard you fight, the system will win.
Adam Hughes’ Fucked is the funniest of the six. Jake Davies’ playwright is interrogated by Sophie Steer’s unseen literary manager. She proclaims him an exciting new voice, raw, real and authentic, but at the same time pressurises him to change his work to suit the theatre’s vision of what a working-class story should be. Is it believable that the protagonist is a doctor? Is the ending too hopeful? It’s knife-sharp, witty and gallingly, awfully plausible.
Matilda Ibini’s closer Keys, performed by Zainab Hasan, ends on a provocation. “Theatre”, Ibini says, “is a tool created to challenge the rigid structures of the establishment.” It has that capacity. Even with the theatres closed, Ibini’s exhortation resonates.
Where Do We Go Next? is