Grotty, Bunker Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

At 22 years old, Rigby is a troubled, naive lesbian navigating the dating and club scene where everyone knows everyone else. The awkward, bumbling young woman just wants to get fucked and fucked up at the weekends – but between the nasty gossip and incomprehensible social politics, her good intentions are exploited. Though this stark, unsentimental view of the London queer scene has moments of comedy and poignancy, the rambling script lacks a focused and coherent journey.

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Devil With the Blue Dress, Bunker Theatre

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by guest critic Amy Toledano

The political climate of 1990’s America may be something the world has largely forgotten, but playwright Kevin Armento certainly has no issue in reminding us of one of the country’s most memorable sex scandals. In his audacious new play Devil With The Blue Dress, Armento examines five women’s accounts leading up to – and resulting in – President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. From the moment you set foot in the Bunker, you cannot help but be transported into what feels like the smoky underworld of dirty politics. This sensation can only be helped by saxophonist, and lone instrumentalist of the show, Tashomi Balfour, who underscores the entire piece with his smooth and often haunting melodies.

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Eyes Closed Ears Covered, Bunker Theatre

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by guest critic Liam Rees

Alex Gwyther’s Eyes Closed, Ears Covered is a slippery play that continuously raises questions. We’re immediately presented with Alyson Cummins’ concrete-grey, angular set, suggestive of a brutalist play park in a rundown housing estate. A recording of a distressed phone call to the police about a pair of young boys and a terrible act of violence adds tension. Gwyther’s script immediately has us hooked with the right amount of specific details to suggest what may have occurred whilst not to revealing too much.

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Bechdel Testing Life, The Bunker

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Women don’t always talk about men.
Women don’t always talk about men.
Women don’t always talk about men.

It bears repeating because it’s often forgotten, ignored or not believed. Popular culture is particularly deaf to the sentiment, and theatre still likes to rely on this inaccurate gender trope. Whilst this has been slowly changing for some time, particularly on the fringe, it’s still a problem.

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The Enchanted, Bunker Theatre

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York and Arden are two men on America’s death row waiting to die. An investigator, known to the prisoners as The Lady, works night and day to save their lives. The similarly unnamed chaplain does the same to save their souls. As the two piece together the pasts of the men about to meet their deaths, a physical theatre ensemble and extracts from Rene Denfeld’s poetic novel The Enchanted creates a dreamlike, romanticised view of poverty-stricken rural America and the killers it breeds.

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Abigail, The Bunker

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Amongst the vocal campaigns fighting domestic violence against women and male rights’ activists misogynist responses, the fact that at least 4% of men are victims themselves is often overlooked. That 4% is reported abuse and no doubt there are many more cases that are never logged with authorities.

Fiona Doyle’s unnamed couple in Abigail aims to capture the universal potential for male domestic abuse, but misses the mark. Their relationship unfolds in non-linear episodes, but much is missed out and the fragmented structure causes a lack of variation in pace and energy.

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Tonight With Donny Stixx, The Bunker

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Donny Stixx is a teenaged magician with boundless dedication to his craft and desperation for fame. Rather than doing things that boys his age normally do, he spends hours honing his skills and tweaking the act he performs at kids’ parties, hospices, churches and for anyone else that will watch. The only thing he ever thinks and talks about is his magic. But Donny’s pretty obviously on the autism spectrum; this combined with his unstable upbringing and lack of an appropriate support system is a particularly deadly combination. Philip Ridley’s 2015 Edinburgh award-winning solo show explodes onto a bare, grey stage in a linguistically vivid documentation of fanaticism and social disorder with a phenomenal performance by Sean Michael Verey.

Verey is an unrelenting force with inimitable energy and charisma that shines through a character who has precious little social intuition. Though Donny is awkward and frustrating, Verey’s performance captivates. Having a totally plain stage that is anywhere and everywhere means it’s entirely on the actor to hold attention – but the performance makes it work and is never, ever boring.

Ridley’s text is dense and Verey races through it; it would otherwise be double the length. Though the pace is exhausting to take in, it’s necessary. The language and imagery richly creates a wonderfully detailed believable world. Director David Mercatali coaxes the nuance from Donny’s biographical story incredibly well despite the speed – the sparsely used pauses are devastating. When the pace finally lets up, it’s like cold air hitting a friction burn.

A clearly foreshadowed conclusion results in awed, uncomfortable silence. After a week that saw the broken American political machine elect an orange fascist for its next president, Ridley’s play is far from comforting. Whilst Verey’s depiction of Donny’s passion is delightful and his performance is nothing short of extraordinary, his vulnerability weighs heavily on bruised and helpless liberal consciences. There is no safety net, and fanaticism is the new normal in this dark play from the innocent days of pre-2016. It’s a hard show to sit through, but absolutely worth it.

Tonight With Donny Stixx runs through 3 December.

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