Joshua McTaggart - '2017 was the year The Bunker found its feet'
In August 2016, Joshua McTaggart announced plans, along with Joel Fisher, to open a new theatre in a former underground car park. Fast-forward 16 months, and McTaggart has been the artistic director of The Bunker for just over one year. As 2017 comes to a close, we asked McTaggart to reflect on the theatre's first full calendar year, and what he looks foward to in 2018.
A little over a year ago, The Bunker Theatre was an abandoned car park underneath the pavement of Southwark Street; 2017 has been the first full calendar year of operation for the Bunker Theatre since we opened our doors in October 2016. Over the past 12 months we have staged 57 different productions with over 450 different artists on our stage, and we welcomed over 12,000 audience members through our doors.
This year, we have focussed our energy on finding our collaborators and building our community through the work we programme. We had the WhatsOnStage Award-nominated gender-neutral production of La Ronde in which roles were decided at the spin of a wheel, Cardboard Citizens’ 9-play repertory epic Home Truths, and the recent production of 31 Hours that explored male mental health and suicide. The breadth and depth of work was inspiring.
In April, we launched Bunker Without Borders, a multi-disciplinary festival that gave artists a space to tell stories about their communities. We wanted to understand the barriers our artists faced, and what’s more we wanted to imagine what a world without borders would look like, feel like, and sound like. From spoken word to dance, short plays to stories, live music to monologues, the festival encouraged dialogue and debate about where we are as a society, where we are going, and – more importantly – where we want to go. At that time the world felt like a dark place, but the work of those incredible artists gave us a beacon of hope as we moved forward together, sharing our fears and hopes for the future. It was at that point that I realised the extent to which The Bunker could inspire and inform our community in the darkest of times.
Unfortunately, darker times did befall our community this year. It would be amiss to reflect on 2017 without thinking to the atrocious terrorist attack that happened in London Bridge in June of this year. Yet, in the face of the most despicable human acts of violence, we found ourselves part of the most heart-warming and uplifting community response. After our home on Southwark Street fell within a police cordon, the generous support from our cultural neighbours meant that we were still able to continue our creative work: The Young Vic let us use an area in their café as our office, The Old Vic offered us rehearsal space in their studio, and Cervantes Theatre were set to re-house our production and press night of The Enchanted, until at the final hour the police cordon was lifted and the area around The Bunker was open to the public again. That week was one of the most emotionally draining and challenging of the year, but I learnt the power of our community to help get our team through the toughest of times.
But this year has not been entirely plagued with darkness. It has also been filled with laughter, and joy, and creativity, and play. The companies creating and performing ambitious and powerful theatre in our underground space have been at the heart of our 2017 experience. The Bunker was born out of a belief that theatre could be produced differently, and this year I have had the privilege to see our collaborators grow from strength to strength with this ethos in mind. From Pint-Sized plays presenting some of the most exciting new writing the country has to offer, to Damsel Productions presenting London’s first all-female director led festival, Damsel Develops, this has been a year of championing the emerging artist and empowering our collaborators. In light of Damsel Develops’ success, I am thrilled to look towards 2018 and a full-scale production from Damsel Productions in the form of Izzy Tennyson’s explosive new play Grotty. 2018 will also see our first transfer from a major London Theatre with Terry Johnson’s Ken, which originally played Downstairs at Hampstead Theatre, and our first major regional collaboration with Bristol-based theatre company DumbWise and their actor-musician punk rock version of Sophocles’ Electra. I’ll also be getting back into the rehearsal room with an American world premiere play Devil With The Blue Dress, exploring the events that became known as The Lewinsky Scandal. Our spring 2018 season can only exist because of the incredible groundwork laid by our collaborators this year, and for all those creatives I am forever grateful.
Looking back, 2017 has been the year in which The Bunker found its collaborators, found its community, and found its feet. I hope that 2018 is the year we learn to fly with those collaborators and that community by our side.
By Joshua McTaggart
For more information on The Bunker's upcoming season, click here.