Review: Where the Hell is Bernard? at The Space

I love a good bit of dystopia. Hard to say why, although I think what I find most fascinating is the psychology of it all. What is it that’s led humanity to this point? What keeps them there? And what happens if someone suddenly sees another way to go?

Where the Hell is Bernard? from Haste Theatre addresses two of these three questions. We never find out what happened, but somehow we find ourselves in The Vine, a walled city from which it’s forbidden to leave. Tannoy announcements explain that productivity is the ultimate goal; that citizens will be executed on their 80th birthday (but hey, at least they get to choose how they die); that young women should keep having regular sex in order to keep the population stable. It’s a terrifying, stark environment governed by unseen leaders, in which every action is monitored, and any protest brings the death penalty.


Inside a towering office block, four identical blonde women from the lost property department go about their daily work, reuniting items with their owners through a bizarre combination of physical sense and mental deduction. They know what needs to be done, and it never occurs to them not to do it; productivity is, after all, the ultimate goal. When the returned belongings of a man called Bernard bounce back, the women are given 24 hours to head out into the city and find him – but it soon becomes clear Bernard doesn’t want to be found…

The show combines physical theatre, puppetry, song and dance to bring to life the grim world of The Vine and the contrasting beauty that still exists outside its walls. We see each new location through the eyes of the four performers, whose initial confidence ebbs away to be replaced by discomfort, fear and wonder as they venture further and further from what they know. Elly Beaman Brinklow, Valeria Compagnoni, Jesse Dupré and Sophie Taylor work well as a unit, powerfully conveying their emotions through facial expressions and movement; in one particularly effective sequence we feel their panic as they search for Bernard with increasing desperation, while in another we sense their peaceful resolution. Lighting and sound effects from Katrin Padel and Paul Freeman also play a big part in establishing each setting, and especially in highlighting the different environments on either side of the wall.

Where the Hell is Bernard? offers us an extreme example of a society so influenced by its leaders that it’s lost all identity. It’s a glimpse into a disturbing future, but there are also echoes of an equally terrifying past (and a more than slightly worrying present). In this scenario, Bernard’s quiet rebellion and the women’s enlightenment offer a faint glimmer of hope that all is not completely lost.

The only problem is that said enlightenment and peaceful resolution seem to come a little too easily. The implication is that the women have been governed by The Vine for at least as long as they can remember, if not their whole lives, and it didn’t sit right with me that such deep-rooted obedience could be overturned so quickly. The show’s certainly enjoyable enough to be longer than its current 50 minutes, so it would be fascinating to explore more deeply the conflict between the characters’ new-found knowledge and everything they’ve ever been told.

All that said, Where the Hell is Bernard? is still a work in progress, and will I’m sure only get better over time. The show’s already both entertaining and thought-provoking in its content and performance, and it has the potential to develop even further into something really special.

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: Haste Theatre, Where The Hell is Bernard?

“Our aim is to devise innovative work that tells stories which provoke question, thought, laughter and enjoyment. We want to excite and stimulate our audiences, making them experience the world in a slightly different way,” explains Jesse Dupre, one of the five founders of Haste Theatre. Since meeting while doing a Masters in Physical Theatre together in 2012, the all-female group has been working continuously, making a total of three shows. Where the Hell is Bernard? will be their fourth.

Where the Hell is Bernard? is a futuristic dark comedy about daring to be individual when everything is forcing you to blend in,” summarises Jesse. We started talking about the book that inspired the show just before Christmas last year, thought about it over the holidays, then did a very initial couple of R&D days in January. In April we read books, watched films and studied historical events that we individually thought could work with the story to inspire new ideas. As we were still touring our other shows from May, we came back to the devising process again in August before the intensive rehearsals began in September and October.”


So where did the idea come from? “The idea of four women looking for a man named Bernard came up over a cup of tea with one of our brothers in a garden in Canterbury when we were on tour last June. It wasn’t a fully formed narrative at that time, but just before Christmas we found a book called The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasalina, about a photo journalist who runs away from his normal life to follow a hare through the wilderness of Finland for a year, after nearly killing it with his car. The idea of a man deserting life in a city and going completely off the grid really stuck with us, so we started thinking about city workers, interviewing some about their daily routines and what it means to disappear so suddenly and entirely. As we spoke about this, the idea of the four women searching for Bernard came back to us!

“We brought in a wide range of other influences including 1984, Logan’s Run, Black Mirror and the art movement ‘Vortism’. We also researched life in cults and life under totalitarian governments, to shape a new narrative that reflects a lot on modern society, retaining the essence of but not entirely mirroring The Year of the HareWe hope that audiences will be immersed in our highly intense world, while we tackle potentially dark and troubling subjects through a light-hearted and playful approach, and that they’ll be surprised and entertained by our creative use of set and other design elements.”

The show features a mix of puppetry, clown, music and song. “It’s got something for everyone,” says Jesse. “The fact that we’re an all-female group, with different talents and skills including various languages – Italian, French, Russian – musical abilities – clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, guitar – and dance and physical training – tap, ballet, contemporary, gymnastics – helps us to bring unique touches to all of our shows.

“Our specialities are in dark comedy and clown-like characters, which has shaped the material a great deal. We knew that we wanted some ‘set pieces’ which would be choreographed movement sections, a song, multi-use of set and props etc, which act as anchors that drive the story and characters forward. These are then linked together with slightly more realistic scenes.”

Haste Theatre have performed their shows – and won awards – all over the world. “I would say that one of the best places we’ve performed is San Diego,” says Jesse. “We were there in 2013 for their inaugural fringe festival, and were the only international artists that year. We were performing on a great outdoor stage, and the audiences were so enthusiastic and supportive. Touring internationally was an amazing opportunity for us as a young company, as it was a totally new experience and helped us to develop as artists.”

The world premiere of Where the Hell is Bernard? is supported by the Arts Council, which has proved invaluable: “It’s meant so much to us, to be able to practically make the show we want. Often we work with very small budgets that do spark creativity, as we have to come up with new ways of making things, but it can also bring about challenges for us. With the Arts Council funding, it has been amazing to be able to employ professional designers and choreographers to help us fully realise the world we imagined. They bring so much more to the show, and we are very appreciative.”

Where the Hell is Bernard? is at The Space from 25th-29th October.