As the audience enter a set with strong indications of a dystopian future, one could suggest that Haste Theatre were inspired by literary classics such as Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when creating their new production Where The Hell Is Bernard?
In a converted old church, The Space Theatre is an ideal location for this. With old shoes and lost belongings scattered across the seating area, the audience discover this paradox world. Paul Freeman’s sound design is a mixture of propaganda and news headlines, played against a background of disembodied voices chanting “Children of the Vine” – enhancing the futuristic atmosphere.
Designed by Georgia de Grey, the minimalist set is versatile in the production. Clear white boxes are stacked together to construct an office in a skyscraper. This sets the scene for those who inhabit this metropolitan area. Three identical workers, in blonde wigs, pop out behind the boxes at the front. Speaking in unison with synchronized movement, the audience discover that these characters work in the Lost Property department. Their job roles are that they have the responsibility to make sure these items are returned to the rightful owners no matter what the consequences. The characters are flummoxed when a box bounces back for the first time, and are on a journey to find the owner, Bernard.
Haste Theatre uses a mixture of styles to explore this brave new world. Exaggerated mime and movement sequences are effective and provide humour to what could be considered a bizarre storyline. For instance, there is a magical moment when the actors become puppeteers with the items in the box, a suit top, newspaper and hat and move them in a dreamlike manner.
Even though the characters are identical in their appearance, their facial expressions and voices provide caricatures and give personality to those who work in lost property. They could be nothing more than anonymous minions in a faceless organisation, but the cast manage to dispel this. Is it a modern-day parable about resistance?
As the story progresses, the rather clinical setting is transformed using multi-coloured raffia and soft décor which tumbles out of the boxes. The audience enter the “Land of Lost Items”, with sunlight streaming on the characters faces as they eat. It is clear that these characters are not used to being outdoors and crossing the fence that keeps them in the Land of Vine. They interact with the audience and this brings some more humour to a rather sinister production which explores the idea of being controlled. When they find the owner, the drawn-out conversation between Bernard and the workers seems to lose the philosophical edge and feel slightly misplaced amongst the quick paced first half. With Bernard’s back to the audience, it is difficult to sense his emotion as he speaks about fighting the system in order to survive. The sing-song finale sequence feels thrown in to showcase the cast’s versatility and does not have the level of impact which the audience may expect from this subject matter.
Where The Hell Is Bernard? is playing at The Space Theatre until October 29.