Joshua McTaggart describes the inspiration behind a brand new theatre space in London.
American director Anne Bogart has a beautiful quote about what the experience of going to the theatre should be like: “When I go to the theatre, I want to see the energy and the power of the event. And I want to be considered part of the act. I want to be in a relationship. And I want something to happen.”
When I go to the theatre, I want something to happen too. Yet, I have often found that London is lacking in theatre spaces that truly give audiences the opportunity to be immersed in the event of theatre in the way that Bogart describes. Driven by this sense of something lacking, I have spent over eight months working with producer Joel Fisher to create a new theatre space in the city that facilitates these kinds of theatrical happenings.
This October, after months of building, fundraising, painting, toilet construction, sweat, tears, and streams of coffee, we opened the doors for The Bunker: A 110-seat theatre based in a former underground car park in London Bridge. The Bunker has programmed its first season including main house plays by Isley Lynn, Philip Ridley, Conor McPherson, and Fiona Doyle. We will also be the home of British pop-rock musical Muted this December, as well as new writing evenings presented by Pint-Sized, contemporary dance by emerging choreographer Shay Barclay and movie nights showing cult classics.
Building The Bunker hasn’t just been about constructing a new performance space. Instead, the process has been driven by a desire to reconstruct the ways in which audiences and artists interact with the theatre. We have been asking ourselves what it should be like to spend an evening at The Bunker, exploring what expectations audiences hold and how these are often underserved in theatres. Most importantly, we have endeavoured to make The Bunker a space that keeps its artists at the core of the work we programme.
When Joel and I first discovered the subterranean former car park that is now The Bunker’s auditorium, we quickly realised that the character and the nature of the venue was unique. The pillars at each corner of the stage create a classical performance space, yet the concrete nature of the building’s interior provides a setting that feels industrial and contemporary. Unlike most venues, we are accessed by a sloping ramp, the main door leads straight into the performance space, and our bar is adjacent to the stage. The Bunker has no carpeted foyer or exterior holding space. Once our doors open, audiences are consumed by the theatrical event and, we hope, will stay for an evening of entertainment and adventure.
The Bunker’s mission was born out of the venue’s architectural quirks but also from our personal interest in exploring what is at the heart of the theatrical event. We want the night at The Bunker to be more than just watching a play: The Bunker is a theatre, but it also serves as a gallery, a bar, a place to discuss, to debate and to hang out. What’s more, The Bunker is a space that exists beyond the main house production. Once a show finishes, audiences are invited to stay for evenings of poetry, dance, music, or a host of other ancillary programming inspired by the performance they have just watched.
I cannot wait to see how our audiences will receive our new ideas and approach. The nature of the space means that you’ll find me venue managing, checking tickets, and behind the bar, so if you decide to come on down to The Bunker this autumn, do seek me out and let me know what you think of the space, our programme, and your night.
As The Bunker grows and builds on its first season, I hope that we become known as a space where audiences can see the energy and power of the event. I want you to be considered part of the act. I want you to be in a relationship with what you see on stage. Most importantly though, I want something to happen, and I want you to be there for it.
The Bunker opened on October 12th with Skin a Cat by Isley Lynn, which runs until November 5.
Image: Chris Gorman