London’s fringe theatre scene would be a lot poorer without venues like The Bunker in Southwark. No doubt run on a tight budget by people not in it just for the profit and offering an eclectic programme of interesting and challenging work.
It celebrates its first year of business with this compelling and thought-provoking play by Alex Gwyther that explores, in often uncompromising terms, domestic abuse and mental illness.
Aaron (former EastEnders actor Danny-Boy Hatchard,) and Seb (Joe Idris-Roberts) are bunking off school to go on one of their “little adventures” to Brighton. Aaron is the larger personality and driving force, thinking of every little detail in their plan, while the simple-minded Seb is happy to be led by his domineering friend.
Early on there’s some typical schoolboy banter and nice comedic touches. But it’s clear that violence has occurred involving the two boys as the lightness of the opening moments is interplayed with scenes of their interrogation in police custody.
In fact, the threat of violence permeates the whole piece, exploding when it comes with a startling ferocity, such as when Aaron confronts a group of fellow schoolboys.
It’s a fierce and visceral performance from Hatchard and with all due respect to the rest of the cast who are perfectly fine, the production suffers a little when he’s not on stage.
At around 100 minutes, the play cries out for being run without an interval because after the break things hit a bit of a lull. The electrifying interplay between the two boys is replaced by scenes told in flashback between Seb and his mother (Phoebe Thomas) that don’t quite hold the attention as much. Although the level of intrigue is maintained as one begins to wonder how much of this is fact and how much is happening in Seb’s head. And the unseen presence of a violent father maintains the underlying threat.
Director Derek Anderson moves it along at a cracking pace and makes effective use of the time shifts. And there’s good work from movement director Jonnie Riordan. It’s just a shame that what starts as an intriguing and vital piece of theatre doesn’t maintain that early momentum.