Bunker at the Lion and Unicorn (Camden Fringe)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Harpy Productions’ ‘Bunker’ is a bleak and sinister post-apocalyptic thriller. I made it in for its final night at the Lion and Unicorn as part of the Camden Fringe and I’m glad I did. Admittedly I do have a soft spot for dystopian stories, and Noga Flaishon’s new play is satisfyingly dark and strange. I did wonder at times where the story could possibly go, but the ending succeeds in being both surprising yet satisfying, as you realise the clues were there all along (I hate a rug-pull twist with no foreshadowing, that is just lazy plotting, thankfully no laziness here).

As well as having written the play, Noga Flaishon plays Maya. Maya has a bunker where she is safe from the dangers of a post Collapse world. Maya hates the bunker and wants to be free of it, but life is dangerous out there. One days she wakes up, her head is bandaged and she is disoriented. A stranger tells her not to scratch, the bandages are supposed to be tight, she’s had to give her stitches. Apparently Maya tried to leave and almost died. Now Maya is not alone anymore but she is still trapped in the Bunker. Flaishon does a wonderful job of portraying Maya’s confusion, after so many years alone there is an understandable nervousness in how she interacts with newcomer Alex, a need to keep the peace and not offend. Or maybe she can sense that Alex is dangerous when provoked.

Niamh Bennet is scarily believable as Alex. She has seen what is out there, and lived through it. She has lost people and she has struggled. She can’t remember the last time she actually got to sleep properly. She knows that you don’t turn your nose up at a perfectly good Bunker. Only someone who had only known safety would run from it. Bennet’s possessiveness becomes increasingly apparent as the story progresses. She wants Maya and the Bunker, they represent everything that she thinks she needs. Bennet’s unflinching portrayal of Alex is where the menace and tension of the piece lies, as she mentally deteriorates she becomes progressively unhinged and terrifying.

The tension between the two characters is paced well, Coral Tarran’s tight direction successfully pulls out the different rhythms of the play, so the darkness never feels one note. There are no glimmers of light offered, but the bleakness is nonetheless compelling.

Ultimately this is an allegorical play about mental health, and the challenges of trying to escape our own damaged minds. This production was supported by Stepping Out Theatre, a leading mental health theatre group.

Covid protections in place at the venue

Hand sanitiser is available at the door and throughout. You are asked to log-in to the NHS app when you check in for the theatre. When coming up to the theatre from the pub the audience is asked to wears masks during the show (unless exempt, of course). The audience naturally spaced themselves out throughout the auditorium.

I was there on a sunny Wednesday evening so most of the pub patrons were enjoying the beer garden, so the interior of the pub was pretty quiet. I saw two shows back to back and felt very safe throughout. Can’t speak to how busy it might get on a weekend or rainy night, but overall was impressed. I am determined to treat myself to a meal there soon, I need to check that the food is as delicious as it used to be.

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