Bunker – Camden Fringe, The Lion and the Unicorn

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Noga Flaishon

Director: Coral Tarran

The future looks bleak in Noga Flaishon’s Bunker currently playing as part of the Camden Fringe. But this dystopian drama also acts as a metaphor for mental health. It’s well-acted but could do with a sliver of light or two.

Mia wakes up with a bandage on her head. She can’t remember how she injured herself. However, the stranger in her bunker, built for the climate apocalypse, explains how she found Mia on the ground and followed the tracks to carry her home, if the bunker can be called home. It’s basic but there’s a water supply and fuel is plentiful.

Inside is safe whereas outside is dangerous and while there aren’t zombies roaming the street, survivors are fighting for food and shelter. It’s clear from the start that Mia’s rescuer is as much gaoler as saviour. Alex begs Mia not to go outside again, and resorts to more violent means where her pleas are ignored.

In the publicity for the play, Harpy Productions suggests that the bunker represents the mind, and in that way the bunker could be aligned to other metaphors for depression: black dog, for instance, or the monkey on the back. The play is co-produced with Stepping Stones, a mental health theatre group. But this tense two-hander could also be viewed as an examination of gaslighting.

As Alex, desperate for company, Niamh Bennett is a menacing presence from the outset, but she manages to give her character some humanity, too, in order that the audience can see her more than a horror film villain. One such baddie that does come to mind often during the play, especially when Alex wields a sledgehammer is, of course, Annie in Misery, but fortunately Bennett strays far enough from Kathy Bates’ camp performance to furnish her character with a calmness that seems unlikely to explode.

Flaishon has the harder job as Mia, trusting that asking Alex to stay with her in the bunker is a good idea when the audience can clearly see it’s not. Perhaps Mia feels so indebted to her rescuer that she suppresses her own suspicions? But Alex’s control over Mia makes Bunker a difficult watch.

Performed so soon after Britain’s own series of lockdowns, some may also find parallels from their own experience, when the fear of outside was matched by a sense of entrapment. It’s easy to understand Mia’s determination to venture outside, even if it is dangerous; almost as easy to sympathise with Alex’s resolve never to leave the protection that four walls and a padlock provide.

When the end comes, it’s unexpected but what other conclusion could there be? It’s clever, but grim.

Runs until 11 August 2021

Camden Fringe runs from 2 August until 29 August 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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