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The Bunker: London’s New Underground Theatre – An Interview with Joshua McTaggart

7 October 2016 | Stephanie Brandhuber

In a time when many of London’s beloved clubs and creative spaces are being shut down, it might put a lot of people off from opening a new arts venue. Not for Joshua McTaggart and Joel Fisher though. They’re the two creative minds behind London’s newest, most innovative theatre space opening on Southwark Street this October. What once used to be an underground car park is now home to The Bunker, a new Off-West End theatre which has been transformed from its original abandoned state into a unique 110-seater performance space. We catch up with Joshua McTaggart, The Bunker’s Artistic Director, to learn more about this fantastic new project.

London Calling: What makes The Bunker a unique theatre venue?
 
Joshua McTaggart: As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any venues – at least not in London – that used to be an underground car park! The original character of the space still remains, with concrete pillars, exposed brick, and a general industrial feel, but we have of course added in some more recognisable features from seating, to a playing space, to a lighting rig. Beyond our physical space, I like to think that The Bunker has a unique ethos: a space that encourages audiences to arrive early, stay late, and inhabit the performance space for the entire evening. We want to open up the creative process to our audiences and engage them in conversation, rather than hiding that process behind mirrors and smoke.

LC: What inspired you to create a new underground theatre?
 
JM: To be honest, it’s not something that Joel (Fisher - The Bunker’s Executive Producer) and I were explicitly looking to do. We weren’t scouring the underground tunnels of London for a space to become a theatre. Like most creative endeavours, there was a lot of serendipity and luck involved. However, the moment we discovered the space and met the philanthropic landlord who was a lover of the arts, we knew we had to take the plunge and turn the space into a fully operating theatre.

LC: How did Joel and you meet and why did you join forces for this project?
 
JM: Joel and I both met last spring on the Young Vic’s Genesis course for young directors. Very early on we realised we were from two different theatrical worlds, but they complemented each other. Our differing experiences were united by our shared belief that London needed a theatre space that was different from what already existed. Little did we know back in the spring that The Bunker would be just around the corner!

LC: Why is being based in Southwark a good fit for The Bunker?
 
JM: I read an article the other day which called Southwark the “original West End” and it only recently crossed my mind the historical importance of Southwark in terms of English theatre. We are at the centre of a cultural hub, with the Globe, the Tate Modern, and the Menier Chocolate Factory on our doorstep. In October the Low Line will open behind us, featuring live music and restaurants in the former railway tunnels, and next year Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr will be opening up their complex at One Tower Bridge. By next summer, Southwark is going to be buzzing with creative and cultural activity, and I like to think The Bunker will be the venue at the heart of all that providing a space for emerging and established artists to create ambitious and exciting theatre.

LC: Are you worried about the future of creative spaces, especially with what seems like a recent, steady cull of London’s creative nightlife?
 
JM: Perhaps that creative cull is where the drive for The Bunker has come from. I’ve been meeting theatre makers and other artists on a daily basis who say London is crying out for a space like The Bunker. With the financial climate we find ourselves in, creative risk is being overridden due to financial risk. What that means, I feel, is that artists whose work isn’t necessarily commercial or large-scale struggle to get a look-in. It also means story-telling becomes generic, narrow, and boring. I like to believe that as a community we can secure the future of creative and cultural spaces by committing to them, championing them, and sharing the risk we take on them.

LC: What excites you the most about opening The Bunker?
 
JM: I can’t wait to share The Bunker with audiences. For months, it was just Joel and me in a small office trying to get our ideas out, then we started to share the secret with our collaborators, then we announced in late August, and now the final step is to pack the space with audiences. Everyone who has seen the space has had a really visceral response, and I can’t wait to see how people respond to the space itself. Beyond that, I’m excited to see if our core idea of event theatre in which the venue is open all night and audiences are invited to stay in the playing space until we close is a success or not!

LC: What do you hope people get from visiting this new underground space?
 
JM: As a director, I have always said it’s not my job to make audiences feel something specific but present them a piece to respond to in their own way. It’s similar as an Artistic Director: I don’t have a specific expectation of how people should feel or respond to the venue or the programming, although I do hope people get excited by the artists we are bringing in. For me, more than anything, I want people to come to The Bunker, have an amazing night out, and upon leaving think “I can’t wait to come back again!” If people want to come back after a night at The Bunker then I have done my job.

The Bunker will open on October 12th and will kick off with its first show ‘Skin a Cat’, playing from October 12th – November 5th. The Bunker is located at 53a Southwark Street, SE1 1RU. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Bunker online.
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