The Only Boy In The World – Underground with The Bunker

The immersive theatre adventure this week took us out of the streets of London and into the trenches of the first World War, for Jethro Compton’s The Bunker: Morgana and Agamemnon at the Southwark Playhouse.

It is described as:

Enter the trenches of World War One in an immersive experience from the producer of Belt Up Theatre.

Morgana is inspired by the Arthurian Legend. On the reserve lines in France, three young soldiers in search of distraction and delight find more than they bargained for in the beautiful, mysterious and mystical Morgana Le Fay. As time passes with stories of adventures and battles lost and won, a dark and mysterious power haunts the trenches taunting the brave knights with thoughts of home, of their schooldays, of the girls and lives they’ve left behind – for King and country.

Agamemnon is an intense re-imagining of the Ancient Greek Legend. Journey into the delusions of a shell shocked solider who is devastated by war, cut off from help and convinced of a plot to bring him down. Bloodied and wounded he dreams of his return to England. As the darkness descends and the enemy mounts its final attack, only one thought haunts Agamemnon, ‘What is there to live for?’

The Bunker is an immersive reimagining of classic legends, rediscovered in a dugout at the heart of the Great War. From acclaimed writer Jamie Wilkes (Belt Up Theatre’s The Tartuffe and Metamorphosis), composer Jonny Sims (assistant composer on BBC’s Merlin) and director and producer Jethro Compton (Belt Up Theatre’s The Boy James, Outland and Macbeth). 

The build of the set really is something wonderful. You enter what is from the outside, a shed, but on the inside is a room that works perfectly as WWI bunker, school, and small cottage. The walls are rough, with boards haphazardly nailed up for support. The ricketiness of the building adds to the atmosphere – the entire structure shakes when doors slam, as you imagine it would if a nearby bomb exploded. The seating is cramped and uncomfortable – so in that respect I imagine the setting is very true to an actual WWI bunker. There is dirt and mud all over the ground (don’t put your coat down, and don’t wear white, as everyone was a little dusty afterwards.)

Both pieces are very good – well written, well acted, and there are strong selling points to each. ‘Morgana’ is a very clever adaptation of Arthur and Lancelot, and is a wonderful mix of lighthearted fun and abrupt sorrow. Setting this story against a WWI backdrop is a clever twist.

The three men serve as soldiers who enlisted together from school, and we join them in their bunker in France, while they flash back to their days at school and their involvement with Gwen and a mysterious farm girl (both played by Serena Manteghi- excellent.) All play their roles with a boyish gusto and wonderfully embody young men who have had to grow up too soon.

There is a surprising amount of musicality involved in the production – the cast, in particular Serena Manteghi, move from scene to scene whilst singing songs pertaining to the era. Manteghi has a delightfully haunting voice, which serves the atmosphere perfectly. The entire cast sing and harmonise very well.

In the second performance, we are with a possibly mortally wounded solider as he flashes back to the life he left behind, and examines how it moved on in his absence. This piece is drastically darker than the first offering, and blurs the lines between good and cruel. It also provides multiple outcomes for the characters – each of which is thought-provoking, and equally cruel to all parties concerned. Everyone is in some way a victim- there are truly no winners in this piece, except for the wonderful portrayal of the injured solider, played by James Marlowe (West Ham midfielder Mark Noble doing his best Matthew Crawley impression.) This is a name to watch for the future. Manteghi also shines in this piece, displaying a gut-wrenching rage mixed with a broken vulnerability.

The only drawback for me was the length of the evening- there is nothing you could cut out from either piece, but it does make for a long viewing. The website advertises it as 1hr 30min but I am quite sure it was 2 hrs 30min with an intermission.

There was also a bit of discussion amongst the group I went with about how ‘immersive’ it is. You are certainly immersed in their world very physically – all the smells and sounds, and the use of lighting are beyond wonderful- but you are not actively participating in their world, you are experiencing it as a voyeur.

History buffs and immersive theatre buffs will definitely enjoy this piece. I’d also suggest that Downton Abbey fans would enjoy it tremendously – listen out for some of the music you’ve heard in the series! It’s a good show and offers a very interesting look into the bunkers of World War One, as well as an examination of adapting classics into a different historical era.

4 stars

It’s on until 21 September 2013, and you can book tickets here!



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