Artistic Director Joshua McTaggart unveils The Bunker 2018 Spring Season – four works that promise ambition and adventure. He unpicks the programme with Daniel Perks:

It’s 2018 and The Bunker enters its second full year of operation. The venue itself has had a makeover, one that will be unveiled on Wed 24 January as it enters the first previews of the spring season – the first fully curated programme of work since The Bunker opened its doors in 2016:

It’s somewhere I always wanted to get us to. The Bunker wants to bring together artists to tell more controversial, or taboo, stories. You have to believe in the work, even if the production doesn’t meet the standards you set, or if the sales don’t go the way you expect. You’ve got to stand at the door and go,

“I’ve programmed this piece for a reason and I believe in that reason still”.

Each of our productions has that. If you came to see each show, you’d get a different journey, but they talk to each other in the same way.

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

Joshua McTaggart

Artistic Director Joshua McTaggart speaks with an eloquent passion for the venue that he co-founded with Executive Producer Joel Fisher. It’s one that he will forever be intrinsically linked with, even when the time comes to hand it over to someone new:

The moment I get complacent about what the space is and what it could be, I should leave. The space will exist beyond my presence – that’s really important to me. I’d like to think that in a period of time I can step away and someone can fill my shoes.

It’s a mature approach from a young theatre maker – the venue is always more than the people that run it. Yet The Bunker feels like a theatre that welcomes in the new and the innovative – its latest season has some striking work that appears keen to challenge the status quo. It features a good spread of female voices, even if they are all singing from a distinctly white, middle class hymn sheet:

We have aimed for a gender balance in terms of our creatives. I’ve made no bones that it’s a very white season – that’s something we aren’t good at yet. For me it’s about looking at what stories are we telling – there is a huge female perspective in those stories.

The idea of bringing artists of colour to your table is ridiculous – you have to go to their table and realise that it’s differently shaped and differently balanced. You have to make the effort to go out of your bubble.

One of the big challenges in working class representation is how do you define class? I’m from a working-class background, but I’m now very middle class because of my work and my life.

It’s not about working class plays so much as about working class voices

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

These shifts will inevitably take time and admitting that more needs to be done is the first in a long list of steps towards making the change that is desperately needed in UK theatre. But if anywhere is going to lead the charge, it’s going to be the fringe, and The Bunker is certainly headed in the right direction – not least because of the steps taken to facilitate a more affordable theatrical experience:

Part of what we try and do is have £10 tickets at The Bunker for young people – it isn’t free, but I hope that makes it more financially accessible, interesting and relevant to a set of people who don’t normally get their story on stage.

If the Tory government can make rail fares more accessible, then The Bunker has to take a step too!


Devil With The Blue Dress

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

Despite its title, Devil With The Blue Dress is not about a particular Conservative government leader – it’s about The Lewinsky Scandal that pitted a White House intern against the First Lady herself. The creative team for this world premiere is headed up by two men, but features women at the heart of the story – it’s also Joshua’s first production as director since the world premiere of Fiona Doyle’s Abigail at The Bunker a year ago:

Directing is a muscle, the less you do it… It’s terrifying, like going back to the gym. But what’s exciting is I’ve had a year of running The Bunker, getting to know the space and our audience. I’ve seen 20+ people come through the venue and work in different ways – by watching other people both do well and make mistakes, it’s allowed me to hone my craft from afar.

I’ve waited for a show that I think is perfect for me to direct. This is not a play about women per se, it’s about politics, about America’s fear of women with power; but also, it assesses the way [Hilary] Clinton behaved during the period. 

“I can’t vote for Hilary because her husband cheated on her. If she can’t keep her husband, she can’t keep the country in order.”

“I can’t vote for Hilary because she stayed with her husband after he cheated on her.”

“I can’t vote for Hilary because she claims she’s a feminist, but look at how she treated Monica Lewinsky.”

Why is it The Lewinsky scandal? It’s the only ‘scandal’ that is referred to by the victim’s name. Who’s the antagonist, who’s the protagonist? There is no clear answer and that’s what is fascinating within the play – two characters are battling for the agency of their own story.


Electra

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

Devil With The Blue Dress is the production that I am personally most looking forward to – the idea that it will combine a political power play with a live, original score (for saxophone) is an intriguing idea to be explored in a converted, subterranean car park. It follows on from DumbWise Theatre, an actor-musician company that fuses original songwriting, live music and storytelling. After their production, it will be instantly obvious if Joshua’s saxophone score is up to scratch or not.

DumbWise are bringing an age-old story to The Bunker, a modern retelling of Electra and her plot to exact sweet revenge on her murderous mother:

I came to  Electra through the producer,  Euan Borland – just announced as one of The Old Vic 12. The Bunker have done a musical before, but we had to discuss live music and how that would work. I wouldn’t call The Bunker a new writing venue – a lot of our work is new plays, but we are a venue that specialises in contemporary work by contemporary artists. That might be a 19th century play, like La Ronde, or a Greek classic like  Electra. There’s no reason we wouldn’t do a Shakespeare, but it’s about finding the right access point to that.

Electra feels very of the moment


Grotty

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

Both Electra and Devil With The Blue Dress comprise the middle of the season – plays about the power struggle between two women highlight how little our sociological constructs have evolved in the last 2,500 years. The end of the season is an equally powerful piece of work by Damsel ProductionsGrotty, a frank exploration of lesbian sub-culture:

When we first spoke with Hannah Hauer-King, artistic director of Damsel Productions, I realised that I can’t name a play in the past few years that explores this. Hannah has already assembled most of her creative team – I don’t think I know anyone more organised! Zoe Spurr is the lighting designer and Anna Reid is the set designer.

It’s brutal and it’s honest and it’s wonderful and it’s funny and it’s dark

Damsel Develops was the most successful week we did in 2017 at The Bunker in terms of audiences, ticket sales and the range of work being seen on stage – eight new, director-led projects.

Queer theatre is very heavily male-dominated, it’s true, but I don’t agree that female-led queer work is nowhere to be found. Turkey at The Hope Theatre and Lobster at Theatre503 spring to my mind instantly as productions that focus around lesbian couples, although perhaps without the gritty undertones that Grotty promises.


Ken

The Bunker Spring Season 2018

With three such powerful productions, opening the season with Ken, a transfer from the Hampstead Theatre, still leaves me a tad baffled. Ken Campbell was a fascinating and influential individual, one who helped shape the world of experimental theatre as we know it. But I remain to be convinced by the Hampstead Theatre, one whose season this year is admittedly much better at addressing the gender imbalance than it was in 2017:

I’m proud we’re opening with  Ken, a transfer from Hampstead Theatre. It’s very interesting to open the season with a play focussing on two men, transferred from a venue that has been criticised in part about their representation of women. It’s now part of a season in which the three plays following have female leads; are female driven stories; are political and active and contemporary.

I talk about The Bunker being for emerging artists – Terry Johnson is hardly emerging. But what is exciting for me is that  Ken was a Hampstead Downstairs show. The Bunker is a very different general demographic – our audience skews younger, with 75% under 35.

There is something interesting in relaunching The Bunker with one of the foremost thinkers about the experimental theatre in the country.


And so, we begin 2018 for The Bunker. On the whole, there is a consistency, a cohesiveness to their programming. The shows aren’t afraid to take risks – an important lesson in artistic integrity for all theatre makers, young or old. Let’s hope that these decisions pay off, both for the season and the rest of the year to come:

The biggest thing is I want more people through the door. We had 12,000 in 2017 – now we’re getting seasons announced earlier, building the buzz, packaging it together. I hope that by the end of this year, The Bunker will be a clearly identifiable space that people will be able to talk about in the way that I talk about it.

This is the year in solidifying what we stand for and the spring season is the first step in that direction

 

To read more about The Bunker 2018 season, which plays from 17 January – 16 May 2018, follow the theatre on Twitter (@BunkerTheatreUK) or visit their website – www.bunkertheatre.com