Tag Archives: Bunker Theatre

“The Enchanted” at the Bunker Theatre

Rene Denfeld is an investigator for death-row prisoners, discovering facts that might save their lives. But her award-winning novel, adapted by Joanne and Connie Treves, is a poetic affair with a magical strain. Bringing such lyricism to the stage is a big task and this attempt is both impressive and intriguing.

Our guide is the prison “monster” Arden, institutionalised his whole life and now awaiting execution. A mute bibliophile, he narrates even his own death, and Corey Montague-Sholay is terrific in the role. His is a captivating performance, with some contrived internal dialogue delivered naturally and a remarkable physicality (including a great catuspadapitham).

Montague-Sholay’s movement, directed by Emily Orme is a nice attempt to express the novel’s flights into both fantasy and despair. But as the director Connie Treves uses it too much; particularly when the whole cast join in for small reason. Likewise, chalk drawing over the set is a good idea, linking the world of legal documentation and the prison cell, but it could be employed with more restraint.

There are fewer reservations with the second major character, known as The Lady, who has the same job as Denfeld. Jade Ogugua tackles emotions sensitively and leads the plot, finding evidence to help a prisoner called York, with suitably intensity. There’s strong supporting work from Liam Harkins as various characters she meets while puzzling over the case’s history. It’s a shame The Lady’s love interest, a defrocked priest, feels tacked on.

I am loathe to criticise the Treves’ work on the adaptation – it is excellent. Having only just finished the novel, let’s go all out and call it exemplary. With a steel will, the tone of calm around the emotive issues raised is preserved. Ruthless in all the right places, the adaptation doesn’t just preserve Denfeld’s themes and style, but enhances them. The characters are more vivid and the action clearer. There might be flaws when it comes to the staging, but this development from page to script is superb.

Until 17 June 2017

www.bunkertheatre.com

Photo by Dina T

“Abigail” at The Bunker Theatre

This spiky, provocative tale, written by Fiona Doyle, chops back and forth through the one-year relationship between a damaged woman and the man who becomes her unwitting victim. A psychological thriller, imbued with the spirit of a nasty fairy tale, it packs a good deal into just an hour and cannot fail to impress.

Joshua McTaggart directs with appropriate efficiency. We see the couples’ first meeting, holidays and arguments, circling around their sole anniversary. The short scenes are tensely interspaced and the quick changes in chronology a credit to the superb actors. Mark Rose makes his unnamed character satisfyingly rounded, an affable presence, he gives a performance of great technical skill when it comes to depicting physical injury. Tia Bannon tackles even more violent shifts just as admirably, being charming one minute, spooky and scary the next. Stories about a traumatised past are especially well delivered, with too much sympathy carefully avoided.

McTaggart and Doyle don’t dally over their efforts, giving less than the bare minimum to pin a lot down. Avoiding details makes the writing admirably crisp – I look forward to more work from this team – but it doesn’t aid clarity. While creating a sense of mystery is all very well, at times the intrigue becomes frustrating. Since Doyle is enamoured of withholding information, only partly as a technique for suspense, it would be churlish to give too much away. The clue is in the title (thanks, Wikipedia) as Abigail is usually associated with the role of handmaid. Suffice to say subservience here has a dangerous edge. The twists are great and this world of poison, graves and glass splinters is evocative. But it could benefit from elaboration.

Until 4 February 2017

www.bunkertheatre.com/

Photo by Anton Belmonté for 176 Flamingo Lane

“Muted” at The Bunker Theatre

As the penultimate instalment of an excitingly diverse inaugural season this new venue, right next to the Menier Chocolate Factory, presents a musical. It’s a new, British, piece – always welcome – with strong song writing from Tim Prottey-Jones and Tori Allen-Martin that makes it easy to recommend the show to anyone interested in musical theatre.

Allen-Martin, brimming with talent, also performs as Lauren, caught in a love triangle with two old friends, former members of a promising rock band. Jake is Lauren’s current boyfriend, a role Jos Slovick expertly creates an interesting sinister edge for, while former partner Michael is suffering from depression following a traumatic event. Michael is played by David Leopold, with the character’s selective mutism leading to an admirably intense performance. He is joined in a series of flashbacks by his younger self, a role tackled impressively by Edd Campbell Bird.

Jos Slovick
Jos Slovick

Sarah Henley’s book reveals the back story too slowly, adding a sense of mystery that isn’t needed as the story contains plenty of drama. The roles of Michael’s uncle and mother (strong performances by Mark Hawkins and Helen Hobson) could easily bear elaboration. Director Jamie Jackson is keen to impress a mark on the show. Unfortunately, the super-stylish set from Sarah Beaton, a moated island for Michael that the cast paddle around in and an overused swing, along with some modish choreography, also repetitive, prove distracting.

A lot of the production is simply trying too hard – unnecessary when the basics are all present and correct. Muted has some important contemporary concerns and fresh dialogue that Jackson secures strong performances with. The neat idea of having a central character that doesn’t speak or sing until late in the show is nicely handled and twists in the story are engaging. Most importantly, the songs are good; a forceful collection of mature numbers that come together satisfactorily in an increasingly powerful second half. Muted is a musical whose praise should be loudly shouted.

Until 7 January 2017

www.bunkertheatre.com

Photos by Savannah Photographic

“Tonight with Donny Stixx” at the Bunker Theatre

Eighty minutes is a long time for a monologue. Holding an audience and taking them on a journey for such a span is an awe-inspiring feat. And with a storyteller like Philip Ridley, accompanied by a faultless performance from Sean Michael Verey and aided by director David Mercatali, this twisted tale is one not to miss.

Donny Stixx is a teenage magician. No secret is made of the fact that he is unstable and it’s soon clear he has committed an atrocious crime. But we’re told to expect the unexpected and Ridley’s imagination prevents any predictability. Cleverly, Donny isn’t an unsympathetic character. There’s the hope the boy might be as talented as he is delusional, a wish cruelly dismantled. Ridley’s peculiar brand of humour is central here. “What’s funny?” puzzles Donny. Harsh (bad) jokes are bravely played with, raising questions, teasing and probing the audience.

Dealing with such a downright scary character needs a fine balance that Verey masters. Fanaticism and some frighteningly convincing panic attacks aren’t easy to watch. There’s an array of voices – family, neighbours and his unfortunately unglamorous assistant – all cleverly delivered. The mix of intrigue and sympathy is well managed.

Ridley has a light touch when it comes to contemporary questions. Internet trolls play a part, as do the cult of celebrity and art as therapy. Where some might hammer at these themes, Ridley never loses the focus of telling a story. Taking us into the mind of Donny Stixx may not be pleasant, but it’s an unforgettable trip.

Photo by Savannah Photographic

www.bunkertheatre.com

Until 3 December 2016