Review: No One is Coming To Save You at The Bunker Theatre

2018 is both a fascinating and a terrifying time to be alive – and particularly to be young. Climate change, Brexit, Trump, knife crime, terrorism, the threat of nuclear war: all these and more have brought us to a place where it’s far easier, and feels a lot more feasible, to fear the worst for our future than to hope for the best.

Photo credit: This Noise

None of the above are mentioned by name in This Noise’s No One is Coming To Save You, but the atmosphere of dread that accompanies them is very much present. The play, written by Nathan Ellis and directed by Charlotte Fraser, is about a young man and woman, each of whom finds themselves alone with their thoughts over the course of one long sleepless night. She’s transfixed by a half empty (or half full?) glass of water on the table, and stubbornly ignoring her ringing phone. He’s watching late night TV with the sound off, while his girlfriend and baby daughter sleep in the next room. Their stories are separate but gradually intertwine, as each reaches out desperately for someone – anyone – to reassure them it will all be okay.

The play is billed as an experimental duologue, and it certainly lives up to that description. The non-linear narrative jumps about in time as the two characters lose themselves in memories, with the audience never totally sure which ones are real and which imagined. While this means it’s at times difficult to pin down where in the timeline we are or what exactly is happening, the writing is so beautifully evocative, and the performances from Agatha Elwes and Rudolphe Mdlongwa so engaging, that we have no trouble at all picturing the scene or sensing the building atmosphere of doom that surrounds the two characters. We don’t know why they’re both awake on this particular night, but from the start there’s the feeling that something terrible might happen – whether it does or not I can’t say, but the threat is credible enough to keep us constantly on edge. (It’s worth noting also that the script conjures some rather disturbing images, particularly of physical injuries, which some audience members may find distressing.)

Photo credit: This Noise

And yet for all that, No One is Coming To Save You is often surprisingly funny, and there are several laugh out loud moments, which help to restore our faith that all may not yet be quite lost. The play’s conclusion, also, feels cautiously optimistic, and there’s the suggestion that though life may not necessarily be all we’d hoped for, we’re all on the same uncertain road and we don’t necessarily have to travel it alone.

No One is Coming To Save You is quite an abstract piece, which leaves much open to interpretation. As such, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea – but what it lacks in terms of plot, it more than makes up for in its portrayal of the general mood in a world where it often feels things will never get better. An interesting and thought-provoking show for the millennial generation.

No One is Coming To Save You is at The Bunker Theatre as part of the Breaking Out season, on Tuesdays and Fridays until 7th July.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it…

Review: Section 2 at The Bunker Theatre

Despite great strides in awareness over recent years, there’s still a huge amount we’ve yet to learn about mental illness. But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that it can strike anyone, at any time – even those who seem to have it all together.

Cam, the central character in Paper Creatures’ new play Section 2, is one of those people. At school he was the golden boy, the star of the rugby team; now he’s in the army, and has been in a steady relationship with his girlfriend for five years. Nothing particular seems to have happened, although there are unproven suspicions, but despite all this somehow he’s ended up being sectioned. That was 28 days ago, and today is the day that Cam – along with his girlfriend Kay, key worker Rachel, and friend Pete – will find out if he can go home. The play takes place on the ward in real time, and as the minutes tick away on Cam’s 28th day, we get an informative and moving glimpse into the workings of a system that’s rarely discussed, on stage or indeed anywhere.

Photo credit: Tim Hall Photography

Section 2 was written by Peter Imms in response to a personal experience he had when a school friend was sectioned, and then developed collaboratively with Paper Creatures in association with Mind, the mental health charity. As such, Nathan Coenen’s portrayal of Cam’s fragile mental state feels both sensitive and authentic: one moment he seems fine, the next he’s forgotten how to breathe; his meds make him forgetful, he seems frequently on the verge of tears, and when he hugs someone, he clings on to them like he’s drowning. The frustrating fact that we don’t know what caused his breakdown only enhances this realism, reminding us that where mental health is concerned, sometimes there simply aren’t neat, easy answers.

The play also examines Kay, Rachel and Pete’s different responses to what’s happened; in fact the balance of the script is such that this is just as much their story as it is Cam’s. Imms moves the characters around very naturally between two rooms, which allows us to witness one-on-one interactions between each pair, and get to know all the characters a little better. Alexandra Da Silva adopts an air of weary resignation as Kay arrives for yet another visit, but we soon realise that behind her tough exterior she’s struggling to keep a lid on her own fear and distress in order to protect the man she loves. She clashes frequently with Esmé Patey-Ford’s Rachel, mistaking her calm professionalism for a lack of empathy, and irritated that Rachel seems more able than she is to establish a meaningful connection with Cam.

This atmosphere of simmering tension is brought to a head by the intervention of Pete, a first time visitor who hasn’t seen Cam for five years. Played by Jon Tozzi, Pete is perhaps the most relatable of the characters: way out of his depth but with an obvious desire to understand, he still maintains a fragile hope that he can somehow find the magic button that will make everything better.

Photo credit: Tim Hall Photography

Section 2 is an important and timely piece of theatre, raising awareness of the far-reaching impact of mental illness, and sectioning in particular. More than that though, it’s a play about friendship and human relationships; though it’s undoubtedly difficult to watch at times, there’s something very uplifting about seeing so many loved ones lining up to support Cam on his road to recovery, each in their own individual way. Sensitively written and performed, this powerful play is well worth a visit.

Section 2 is at The Bunker Theatre as part of the Breaking Out season, on Tuesdays and Fridays until 7th July.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it…

Interview: Hannah Samuels, Kiss Chase

Formed in 2017, Second Circle Theatre is an emerging theatre company of three core members and five associate artists, including street performers, musicians, visual artists and devisors. Last year they were finalists of the Pleasance Charlie Hartill Special Reserve, alongside emerging companies Unpolished Theatre and ThisEgg, and their debut show Meeting at 33 premiered to five-star reviews and a sell-out run. This month they’re bringing their second show, Kiss Chase, to The Bunker Theatre as part of the Breaking Out season.

“Our company aims to challenge what a night at the theatre looks like and how it is experienced, and put real people and stories at the heart of our work,” says artistic director Hannah Samuels, who founded Second Circle along with Topher Collins and Zoe Gibbons. “We want to encourage communities to feel connected to each other and individuals to feel less alone, and to create honest, visceral theatre in unique and intimate spaces. We aim to make work that can be and should be experienced by everyone. As a company, by revealing our hopes, fears, obsessions, anxieties and secrets, we strive to make work about the people we care about and the issues we want to scream about.”

Kiss Chase is a part-interactive, part-verbatim speed dating event, which explores the barriers we face when forming relationships, both in and out of love. “Audiences will be taken through a series of interactive tasks/games to develop their intimacy skills – as participants – as well as watching the narrative,” explains Hannah. “We’re inviting them into a world where they are immediately congratulated for taking the leap and entering the unknown. In keeping with our company style, minimal tech requirements and a reduced audience capacity will create an intimate experience for individuals as well as the collective group.

“During the event, the audience will go on dates, talk to characters and listen to songs, as we invite them to look up from their phones and to find commonality in shared experience. The original inspiration for the show sprung from the question: what is it about the pursuit of love that allows us to sometimes be treated badly in order to find it? As the show progressed we came across research calling London the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’ and we wanted to explore why this was and how/if this could be changed. With the rise of online dating, self-help books and the emergence of the Instagram filter, now feels an important time to look one another in the face.

“We’d like our audiences to feel changed in some way by the performance and connected to those they’ve only just met, having been through the experience together, and also to leave questioning what of Kiss Chase was performance and which parts were real. We want to celebrate a world where interactions happen face-to-face, drawing similarities between the ‘live-ness’ of seeing a theatrical event rather than something filmed. We hope to champion the forming of friendships as much as romantic relationships and to challenge who our significant other might be, and to create a shared audience experience celebrating similarities not differences.”

Kiss Chase has been in development since the beginning of 2018, and was still at a very early stage when it was selected for the Breaking Out season. “As with our first show, we always start developing a seed of an idea by doing lots of research,” explains Hannah. “The company have been out and about interviewing people across the country who have shared their stories of love, loss and friendship with us. We have also been going speed dating… a lot. Our associate artists have been involved in the development phase of the process, which is a really collaborative and fulfilling way of working. We’ve been building character through the verbatim interviews and experimenting with the game format of the show, and we’ve worked with Rich Maskey at Potential Difference, looking at ways to integrate technology into the show or to form part of our marketing campaign.

“The Breaking Out programme has quite literally helped us to ‘break out’ and launch ourselves into the industry with our second show, granting us the professional support to secure further funding and exposure as we strive to make life-changing theatre. Having worked alongside other emerging companies through the Pleasance Charlie Hartill tryouts 2017, we were delighted to be offered this opportunity to continue to learn from and support our peers. We are incredibly excited to develop our work with support from such an incredible and intimate venue, and we have already learned so much from the mentorship that’s been offered to us as part of the program. We love how The Bunker encourages shows and companies they work with to take risks and push the boundaries of conventional theatre. It has an incredible reputation for producing a hugely diverse programme and we share a passion for engaging the local community to tackle pressing personal/collective issues, with a unique approach.

“The Bunker is a perfect venue for Kiss Chase, local to us in East London, with a uniqueness and site-specific edge. The intimacy the space invites is amazing – it’s like watching a show in your lounge! Our first show was site-specific in a non-traditional theatre space, so we want to use the environment of The Bunker and all its various nooks and crannies when creating the work specifically for this venue. The mentorship we have already received from David and Josh has been invaluable at this early stage of the company’s growth, and we are really excited about continuing this relationship long after Breaking Out season is complete.”

Book now for Kiss Chase at The Bunker Theatre, on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7pm from 11th June to 7th July.

Interview: Helena Jackson, Nine Foot Nine

What would happen if almost every self-identifying woman in the world grew to nine foot tall? Sleepless Theatre Company explore this intriguing concept in Alex Wood’s Nine Foot Nine, which opens at The Bunker Theatre in June as part of the Breaking Out season.

Nine Foot Nine follows a family over 16 years in a dystopic world where suddenly, painfully, self-identifying women start to grow and grow and grow and grow until the gender politics of the world start to break down,” explains director Helena Jackson. “We’re very interested in the concept of atypical bodies, and how bodies can shape and skew society’s view of an individual. We thought Nine Foot Nine would be a hugely interesting concept with which to interrogate the ‘monstrous’ – the atypical – and how it can affect gendered power dynamics. If self-identifying women had the ability to overpower every single cis male they came across without too much effort, how would the power structures of the world change?

“The concept is so broad there is no way that we’re ever going to be able to explore every single angle. We want the audience to walk out entertained, intrigued and for them to sit down for a pint afterwards saying ‘Gosh, yeh, what would happen if men were physically weaker than women?’ This is a show to hopefully make people talk and think way after they’ve left the venue, both in terms of gendered interaction and preconceptions attached to performers that identify as D/deaf, disabled or neurodiverse.”

In line with that commitment, Nine Foot Nine will be fully captioned and will involve performers and creatives who identify as D/deaf, disabled or neurodiverse. “We’ll be working as hard as we possibly can to make sure that the play is accessible to all audiences,” says Helena, “and we’re looking to create a culture where we interact with D/deaf, disabled or neurodiverse audiences and creatives no matter what the themes of the particular play we’re creating.”

Nine Foot Nine is the result of almost two years’ work – or, as Helena puts it, “The show has been in development forever, it seems. At first we had included way too many storylines – six characters instead of three – and it was more of a snapshot of society rather than something with a narrative focus. We completely redrafted around ten months ago, whittled our characters down to form this core family unit, and did a couple of other projects which boosted our confidence in terms of creating a piece of work that thinks about accessibility while not necessarily being about disability, as such.

“We showcased a section of it at the Royal Court in March and were part of the LET Award finalists in March as well, but this is the first time it’s been shown in its entirety. We’ve had tantrums, makeups, sleepless nights – it’s been a rock-and-roll ride but it’s now actually about to become a real physical thing, and we are so excited and terrified for it to actually become a proper play instead of this world existing on the computer screen. Sharing it with an audience will be one of the scariest and most thrilling moments – it’ll be so interesting to hear what people make of it, whether the way we portray the growth works and if it starts the kind of conversations we want it to. The Bunker is such a wonderful space for this kind of show, we have a huge amount of stage space and tech possibilities, so it should be pretty damn thrilling.”

It’s not just the venue that has Sleepless excited; they’re also looking forward to joining the other five theatre companies selected to be part of The Bunker’s Breaking Out season. “Breaking Out is fantastic because it allows us as an emerging company time to create, re-create and re-draft without the sort of financial pressure that is present in so many other spaces. It just means we can have fun with the piece and play around, developing our accessibility measures and audience pool in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a full run. It’s also so lovely to meet other companies that are in the same position we are – it creates a proper community of theatremakers that all critique and inspire each other – and then go to the pub together after. Of course.”

London-based Sleepless began around seven years ago at sixth form college. “We got fed up of the lack of opportunities there were in the performing arts and so decided to start making our own,” says Helena, who’s the company’s artistic director. “Over the years it’s massively developed, but there’s something wonderful about the naive, fearless attitude we had when it started, the sort of jump-first-and-figure-out-how-you’re-going-to-land-later type vibe that only 16-year-olds can really possess. We love that sense of community, of people getting their hands dirty, of sort of stumbling along and mucking up along the way but then knowing you’re going to do it better next time. Our aims are very much to keep accessibility at the core of what we do and to prove that emerging companies can engage in the access debate – and then just to produce exciting, magical, and anarchic theatre.”

Nine Foot Nine certainly sounds like it lives up to that ethos: “It’s going to be a thumping, ferocious, dystopic rollercoaster. If you’re into sci-fi, feminism or visually beautiful work you should definitely check us out – we’re going to have vast amounts of LEDs, some ridiculous soundscapes and will basically be portraying a world in uproar. It’s going to be chaotic, it’s going to be anarchic, it’s going to be banging, so check us out.”

Tickets are on sale now for Nine Foot Nine at The Bunker Theatre on Mondays and Thursdays at 8.30pm from 11th June to 7th July.

Interview: Peter Imms, Section 2

“People need to see something about this topic, and to talk about it – as long as you chat about it in the bar afterwards, that’s great.”

Section 2 is a new play by London-based playwright Peter Imms, which addresses the sensitive subject of mental health. It’s been developed in collaboration with Paper Creatures, an emerging theatre company founded last year by Jon Tozzi and Nathan Coenen, and will open in June as part of the Bunker Theatre’s Breaking Out season.

The play follows the story of Cam, who was sectioned 28 days ago, as he faces the review that will decide if he’s well enough to go home. “The play looks at the coping mechanisms that everybody has to find within themselves – not just Cam but everybody around him,” explains Peter. “It’s a really intimate and intense piece that clings on to the desperation that people feel when they’re thrown into a situation as drastic as this.

“It’s a subject that I didn’t really know about until half a year ago, and I think generally it’s something that people don’t know much about – there’s not many source materials for what sectioning is and the effects it has on people. I did a bit of research and found that it does happen to a lot of people, but there’s not really a conversation about it. So this play is a nice way to have that conversation, but also it’s just a good, gritty intense drama about four characters, all trapped in the same situation and trying to achieve the same thing from different angles.”

Peter was inspired to write the play by an unexpected personal experience: “Someone I knew was sectioned, and it shocked me because it’s one of those things that you think is never going to happen to you. So it came from visiting them and reading about other people’s stories – I guess I’m interested by things I don’t understand, so I did a lot of work into what it actually is and the technicalities of it. We also got in touch with Mind, the mental health charity, who have been amazing with information and feedback. They put us in touch with a lot of other people who’ve been sectioned, and then from that point the stories just began to form. So Section 2 has come from a place of interest, intrigue, lack of understanding and passion.”

The play began life as an idea and ten pages submitted in response to a call-out by Paper Creatures, who were looking for a new project following the success of their critically acclaimed debut production, Flood. “Paper Creatures are so good as a company because they’re not like anybody else – they’re all about collaboration and creativity,” says Peter. “When I went to them with the idea for Section 2, they liked what it had to offer in terms of potential, and from there we developed it together. We got the director Georgie Staight on board really early, and it’s been a constant soundboard with everybody involved. We’ve had R&Ds – we went away to Wittering together, which was romantic and lovely – just to explore it and play with it. It’s my favourite way of working; it’s been so nice to be in the room with people at the top of their creative game, to develop the play and test things out.”

That development process has seen the play go through some significant changes from its initial draft. “Between the first and second draft, the play basically completely changed,” Peter explains. “The first draft had this huge twist, but when we had a reading of it we all agreed that although it was great and very tense, it didn’t give us anything other than ‘it’s a twist’. So I went away and essentially re-wrote the whole play, still in keeping with exactly the same themes but I changed the structure of it a lot. It’s been hugely fun and explorative; they’re all so giving and so, so good, and for me it was a treat just to see them rip it all apart and put it back together again.”

As for Paper Creatures, Peter has no doubt they’re the perfect company to tell Cam’s story. “They’re advocates for new writing – I’ve never met anyone else who genuinely cares so much about new writers,” he says. “They go and see new work, they’re growing new artists all the time – and not just writing, they’re constantly looking to connect with new set designers, new lighting designers, whatever. They’re just so passionate about ‘new’, and they want to be pioneers of new work – so for me that’s fantastic because that’s what I am.

“But also the sensitivity that they bring to a subject like sectioning and mental health in general is absolutely priceless; they have a perfect balance of creative desire and the will to push everyone in the company to be the best, but also to honour the story that we’re trying to tell, and I think they marry the two really well.”

Section 2 will be performed as part of the Bunker’s Breaking Out season, which sees six companies perform in rep over four weeks. “The Breaking Out season is a great way for emerging companies to get on stage,” says Peter. “I hope it’s going to have a familial feel, especially for us as we’re always sharing the same night with the same company (This Noise), so I’d like to think we’re going to get to know them and it’ll be quite a community.

“Before I even knew it was a possibility I felt the Bunker would be perfect for Section 2; it’s got this gritty, intimate, almost – in a good way – dirty feel. The audience are encroaching on the show, and it’s like a fly on the wall situation. When I found out that we’d got it, I was delighted and now I can’t see it anywhere else. And the Bunker have been great in terms of help with marketing and outreach. For example we’re having some post-show talks involving the creative team, Mind, and people who’ve been affected by sectioning, so the theatre have offered us the time for that and helped us set it up.”

Originally from the Midlands, Peter moved to London when he was 18 to go to drama school. “I think a lot of playwrights either get into it from acting or from writing in some other form,” he says. “I was the acting route – I went to East 15 for a year, which was absolutely invaluable in terms of knowledge of the business and how stuff works. With that move to London I really discovered theatre, it was like a blast of everything that was new, so going to drama school for that reason alone was so integral.

“From that I realised I liked the production side a little bit more, so I started to work with screen, writing and directing short films, and that led into just writing those films, and that led into theatre, because I found I was more suited to the dialogue base of theatre than the visual base of screen. So it was just a slow transition until I found what I was right for and more comfortable with. Now it’s been three years that I’ve been solely writing plays and honing my craft – everything’s slow with writing, but I feel like I’m getting there.”

His top tip to other aspiring playwrights is to see as much theatre as possible: “See stuff you love, see stuff you hate, see stuff you’re indifferent about, see stuff you hate and find stuff in it that you like. I try and go to the theatre a lot; I just think it’s really important creatively. In terms of new writing, I love the Royal Court, and the Bush is a favourite for me at the minute, I saw Misty there a couple of weeks ago and it was incredible. In terms of smaller venues, I’ve seen some great things at Theatre 503, and I’m really close to the Orange Tree and haven’t seen anything I’ve not loved there, so that’s one that stands out.

“If I’ve got a bit of a block and something I’m working on isn’t really flowing, sometimes I’ll see something at the theatre and it’ll just change something in me – even if you just see something you love, it’ll inspire your writing. I think that’s the most important thing. And in London there’s so much here, especially in fringe theatre. That’s all I spend my money on, to be honest – that and beer! – but I wouldn’t change it.”

Book now for Section 2 at the Bunker Theatre, every Tuesday and Friday from 11th June-7th July.