I can vividly remember my first visit to The Bunker for two specific reasons. Firstly, it was not at all what I expected; I had heard that it was an underground car-park that had been transformed into a theatre, and as such, I assumed it would be a found space that resembled its former life more prominently than its new one. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The second, being the delicious aroma of mulled wine floating out of the bar and through the venue, it was a cold December evening and the rich smell made the whole place feel warm, inviting and homely. I couldn’t have been more right!
Joshua McTaggart and Joel Fisher met on a Springboard Directors Course at The Young Vic and quickly became friends, they had intended to stage a production together but, by chance, stumbled across the space that would eventually become The Bunker. It was Joel that tracked down the landlord and convinced him to let them take over his vision of turning it into a theatre, though it needed an awful lot of work.
Joshua and Joel took on much of that work themselves and finished it in a remarkably short space of time. What they ended up with is a quirky and eclectic theatre with a whole load of character. They don’t think it will ever be complete, and keep adding something new to the mix.
The relatively large thrust stage is framed by four exposed concrete pillars, which they opted to leave as they found them. One bank of seating is a familiar theatre arrangement, while the other two have a mixture of old chairs, bar stools, tables and lamps, which makes it an incredibly comfortable place to watch interesting theatre.
It was a steep learning curve for the pair, having to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to get the space both safe and legal, but they praise the support they got from Southwark Council and put their success, in part, down to their own naivety. In the end, they discovered that by approaching the mundane admin tasks with the same creativity they would directing a show, they could get through it. Joel says he likes to be in a steep learning curve, and he likes to learn by doing it himself. Now they know the building inside out, the learning is about the running of the venue itself, which they do alongside a small team, who have become like family to them.
I ask Joshua, if knowing what he knows now, would they have done anything differently? He tells me they wouldn’t, because it’s been all of their decisions, good or bad, that has put them in this unique position today. I look over at the wheel of fate hanging above the stage for the current production of La Ronde (each spin of the wheel dictates what the audience will see that night) and I realise how fortunate it is that Joshua and Joel’s wheel of fate landed the way it did.
Less than a year old, The Bunker, nestled below the Menier Chocolate Factory, has already curated a diverse programme, including new British musical Muted. Both Joshua and Joel talk about the importance for them of working with people they have synergy with, for them it’s not just about providing a space, it’s about creating an environment where the artists and the venue can grow together. The Bunkers next run will be Home Truths, which consists of nine plays in rep, with an ensemble of ten, quite ambitious for the duo who claim to still be learning how to put together a programme.