The Bunker’s artistic director Chris Sonnex announces his first season as artistic director
The six productions and a new festival, programmed from January to May 2019, will help Sonnex to achieve his ambition for theatre “to disrupt, challenge and interrogate the world that is put before us”.
Highlights include award-winning solo show, Funeral Flowers, that was a hit at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, written and performed by Emma Dennis-Edwards. Directed by Rachel Nwokoro, it tells the story of 17-year-old Angelique who is navigating her way through the care system into adulthood, dreaming of being a florist and facing challenges including the recurring threat from her boyfriend’s gang. Powerful and moving, it is part poetry and part floristry masterclass, running from 15 April to 4 May.
The season opens with the world premiere of Welcome to the UK! from theatre ensemble Borderline which brings together people of 13 different nationalities to present a satirical comedy about the situation of refugees in the UK. Running from 22 January to 16 February, it is devised and performed by the ensemble, including people who have recently sought refuge in the UK, and is directed by Sophie NL Besse. The ensemble will also be performing their first show, Borderline, a satire of the Calais refugee “jungle”, twice a week.
From 19 February to 16 March, The Bunker will present a play full of humour and heart, Boots, written by Sacha Voit and Jessica Butcher and directed by Nadia Papachronopoulou. It explores cross-generational connections through the story of a 30-year-old pharmacist and her growing friendship with a 70-year-old woman.
This will be followed by a week-long festival exploring intersecting identities and tensions, responding to writer Rachel De-Lahay’s original provocative piece, My White Best Friend. As co-curators, she and director Milli Bhatia have commissioned 11 artists to pen their own letters that “say the unsaid to the people that matter most”. Each night, two of the letters will be cold-read by performers alongside Rachel’s piece.
The writers and other artists creating the letters include Bola Agbaje, Zia Ahmed, Travis Alabanza, Fatimah Ashgar, Nathan Bryon, Matilda Ibini, Jammz, Iman Qureshi, Anya Reiss, Nina Segal and Tolani Shoneye. The festival, called My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid… runs from 18 to 23 March.
The new season also features a double bill of one-woman shows that had an impact at the Edinburgh Fringe. Written with humour, urgency and anger by Kat Woods, Killymuck tells the story of Niamh growing up on a council estate in 1970s Ireland, trapped by the barriers from living within the benefits system.
Basing the piece on her own upbringing, Woods said that Killymuck presented lives that were “constantly overlooked in theatre”. She was inspired to write it after seeing Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman which presented a version of Irish life, created by an English writer, that she did not recognise from her own experience. Directed by Catriona Shoobridge, it premiered at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, powerfully performed by Aoife Lennon.
It will run from 26 March to 13 April alongside Box Clever which was a hit of the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout space at Summerhall. Written by Monsay Whitney and directed by Stef O’Driscoll, it highlights the injustices of the social care system through one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter.
After Funeral Flowers, Sonnex’s first season ends with Fuck You Pay Me, described as an evening of “shameless entertainment, of divine feminine fury, a burial of preconceptions, a night of sex-witch anarchy”. Written and performed by Joanna Nastari and directed by Bethany Pitts, it provides a no-holds-barred picture of life in the world of London’s strip clubs and sex workers. Combining live music and poetry plus nightly special guests, it runs from 7 to 18 May.
Sonnex also today announced the arrival of a new associate director, Debbie Hannan, who specialises in directing new writing and making devised theatre after working as a trainee director at the Royal Court in London.
Her role will include presenting a new monthly podcast called The Underground Podcast. Featuring artists and activists, it will investigate and explore what needs to change in the theatre industry.
In response to themes in the podcasts, The Bunker will host a monthly variety show, The Underground Night, that will feature new and established musical, spoken-word and dance talent.
The Bunker’s executive director David Ralf announced that the theatre is converting a space, formerly used for its bar before it moved outside, into a writers’ room. The Writers’ Snug will be a free-to-use area for up to five playwrights, with one desk reserved for writers from under-represented backgrounds.
Sonnex, who joined in September, said that his first season came out of his passion to present the diversity of London and the rest of the UK, including working-class lives. “Theatre exists to disrupt, challenge and interrogate the world that is put before us. We live in a world where the words of so many people are struggling to be meaningfully heard. There is an artistic and political revolution bubbling across our society, whether that be very personal revolutions or a bigger structural seismic revolt.
“This season explores the full spectrum of revolution, from Emma Dennis-Edwards exploring how one very personal decision can change someone’s life in Funeral Flowers to Jessica Butcher and Sacha Voit burning it all down and starting again in their new play Boots.
“At The Bunker, we are incredibly honoured to welcome theatre-makers who have something to say that reflects and comments on today’s world. These voices will rise up from an underground car park in south London and be heard across the city.”
Founded just over two years ago by Joshua McTaggart and Joel Fisher, The Bunker was built in an underground space next to the Menier Chocolate Factory near London Bridge.