Lockdown reviews: Where Do We Go Next?

Update: 8 April 2020 – the Bunker have made all six plays in this series available for free on YouTube. You can find all the links on the Where We We Go Next website.

The lovely Bunker Theatre is no more. Its physical space in an underground car park adjacent to the Menier is closed, ready for redevelopment. It was unable to celebrate its final week of takeovers in person, and so it was that coronavirus, not commerce, that closed the doors to the public a final time.

This set of six plays was to be performed live there in the final week; instead, they are available on Vimeo to rent for £7.00. The final opportunity to rent is today, 29 March, but once you rent, you have access to the recordings for seven days.

All the films are curated and directed by Caitriona Shoobridge, and are designed by Basla Binkowska, with sound by Benjamin Grant and lighting by Will Monks. They are all filmed within the Bunker’s performance space.

Publicity image for Where Do We Go Next?
Publicity image for Where Do We Go Next?

The Feevs. Written by Kat Wood, performed by Sophie Hill

Sophie Hill’s character is Irish, a theatre-maker, and impoverished. What begins as anxiety around taking a show to the Edinburgh fringe turns into a far more practical concern, as she fails to deal effectively with the “monthly purge”. There are lines of beauty in the depiction of blood, and on the fringes there are the politics of home, the friendly neighbour so old she has a “face like a jigsaw”.

A simple ticking, a percussion of a clock or a heartbeat, accompany extreme close-ups of Hill as ahe muses on her situation as creator and participant in “a decent side hustle” waiting tables. Her working-class voice must be authentic, but not “sound dumb or fucking common”. Her acting is constant. Her stress, her envy, her adrenaline. Her smile is almost an apologetic imposition.

Hangman. Written by Abraham Adeyemi, performed by Simon Manyonda

We meet Adeyemi in some kind of assessment centre. He’s in a chair, with a large light trained there as if he is in an interrogation. We remember the premise of the Hangman game, to uncover a word before the stick man is fully suspended. This is a game of life experience and personal entitlement, and if we are listening, the operator is not.

“Nobody gives me a chance”, says the character in the chair. Is this a satire on the Universal Credit system and the “computer says no” culture, or something more prosaic? The missing letter in the incomplete word may well be a V sign to society.

Final poster at The Bunker. Following government instruction the theatre closed early at Where Do We Go Next was never presented to a live audience
Final poster at The Bunker. Following government instruction the theatre closed early so Where Do We Go Next was never presented to a live audience

Fucked. Written by Adam Hughes, performed by Jake Davies and Sophie Steer

A young working-class voice has been called into a professional theatre which thinks itself progressive, the kind that has directors called Hugo with boltholes in “the Cotswolds” who do R&D “at the Nash”. Davies’s character has just one word in this sixteen-minute piece, instead responding with clarity and restraint to the unseen Steer’s verbal diarrhoea, meaningless verbiage, tick boxes.

This script person relays ever more offensive messages making assumptions about class. In rewriting the work of Davies’s character completely to obliterate an important discussion about medicine and class, instead bringing the apocalypse to a female Polish cleaner, she does the opposite of what she claims to do; crushing and censoring the voice of “the authentic” and closing firmly “a door to a world I never knew existed”.

May I, Speak-er? Written by Nessah Muthy, performed by Witney White

This was the most impenetrable of the six plays for me, with White’s black female protagonist speaking Muthy’s disjointed lines, detached, repeated, and echoed thriugh multiple instances of the same person on screen. “I can”, moves through change, community, identities, racism, and culminates in the frustration of not being able to speak or readily communicate.

Screengrabs from the films that make up Where Do We Go Next
Screengrabs from the films that make up Where Do We Go Next

Same Again. Written by Charley Miles, performed by Harry Egan

The community pub is the focus of Same Again, and the intrusion of large private enterprise into small communities who may lack money but thrive on friendship and local identity. Egan’s character, a perceptive Northern voice who sells himself short because he wasn’t “bright at exams”, wants to save the village watering hole from the iron grip of commerce.

We are back on assumptions again, as we have been throughout this collection. The community may not feel they are good enough to pull together, but their determination as shown by this one man, who we see filmed so close we see the raggedness of his beard and the spittle collect at the corner of his mouth, is clear. But is this a rosy-eyed consequence of Brexit Britain, with “a field that should be left fallow but keeps getting used”?

Keys. Written by Matilda Ibini, performed by Zainab Hasan

Keys celebrates The Bunker, and the importance of theatre itself. In Hasan’s direct to camera address she invites the virtual audience to consider questions which would have crackled to life when posited from the stage. About theatre’s life force being the people who create, deliver and consume. About the need to nurture the imagination by “feeding, stretching and training”.

About how performance spaces and what fills them challenges the establishment and defies the need of those who seek to “persecute people for merely existing”. We share, we engage, we understand, as different voices provoke and educate us. So goodbye to The Bunker, the room and the space. Keys reflects on what the space was is, and could have been.

Where Do We Go Next is available to rent from Vimeo until 29 March.

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