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.

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: Nathan Ellis, No One Is Coming to Save You

Kicking off on 11th June, Breaking Out is a festival of world premiere shows by emerging theatre companies, chosen from over 45 different projects by the artistic team at The Bunker Theatre. One of those shows is No One Is Coming to Save You from This Noise, a new theatre company that try to find contemporary languages for political action. An experimental duologue about one night in the lives of two people in their early twenties, No One Is Coming to Save You explores youth loneliness, power and powerlessness, and the hope for something better.

“Pretty much every day a new article will come out online about how young people are really unhappy and disappointed with the world and their lives, and that didn’t seem to be being reflected in the work we were seeing onstage, which either ignores young people altogether or is extremely interested in their sex lives,” explains writer Nathan Ellis. “We wanted to be more reflective and talk about how it really feels to be young, and how that feeling that something better is coming is maybe masking a sneaking suspicion that it isn’t.

“We really want to accurately reflect what it feels like to be young right now in both the content and the form of the play. The form of the show has been ambitiously experimental from the beginning. The two performers tell the story of two people, but as the story progresses, the lines between themselves and their stories start to blur. It’s exploring the feeling of being not-quite-in-the-world that seems particularly salient to contemporary experience. If you like Caryl Churchill or Chris Thorpe – plays that demand you think and feel – then you’ll like this.”

Nathan started writing No One Is Coming to Save You in 2016 at a residency in Oxford. “It’s almost unrecognisable from that point, but it’s essentially got the same DNA as that play,” he says. “Since then the company have had a year’s worth of workshops and scratch performances and sharings to bring it to where it is now, and have been really generously supported by Arts Council England. A lot of the play has been collaborative, with lots of discussion with people within and outside the company about its themes – everyone in the company is under 25 – and experiences from their own lives.”

No One Is Coming to Save You is the first production from This Noise, who focus on making theatre by, with, and for young people: “We are made up of a group of interdisciplinary makers across writing, design, and performance and have been Arts Council East funded since 2018,” says Nathan. “We basically think theatre is a great space to talk about how complicated it is to be alive right now, without resorting to simple answers or platitudes. If you’re looking for a formally experimental show that explores how it really feels to be young today – about youth loneliness, mental health, and the terrors of a world not working, then give No One Is Coming to Save You a go.

“Although it deals with serious issues in a complex, challenging way, the play is actually very hopeful. Without spoiling the ending, it’s got a real belief behind it that communal experiences – like sharing space and sharing a story – can really make us feel more connected to each other. Hopefully it will challenge people with a new form and maybe make them smile a bit too. There are some funny bits – promise!”

With a little over two weeks until their first performance as part of Breaking Out, Nathan and the team are looking forward to bringing their work to The Bunker. “This Noise are unbelievably excited about Breaking Out. It’s so exciting to be part of such a vibrant season of other work by emerging companies. Particularly as a company exploring how it feels to be young, it will be so great to see where their work has taken them and to see the pieces in conversation with each other. We’ve been in love with the Bunker since it opened and always wanted to perform the show there. It already has such a history of supporting complicated, experimental work that would otherwise not get a platform in London. It’s such a versatile space and one that has a real atmosphere and engaged audience, who we think will really appreciate the challenge of a show like No One Is Coming to Save You.”