Pros: This new venue goes full out to make you feel welcome and to offer a different experience from the normal.
Cons: The configuration of the theatre, without a traditional lobby, means latecomers or those going in and out for whatever selfish reason, are a major distraction. On a cold winter’s night, it could be a serious problem.
The first thing that strikes you about The Bunker, once you manage to find it hidden just beside the Menier Chocolate Factory, is how apt the name is. Down the slope, past the outside toilets, through the door and straight into the theatre space. It is easy to picture how this was once an underground car park. It’s certainly unique.
In fact, it’s this uniqueness that brings up the major problem that needs to be addressed. Without a lobby space, the door leads directly outside. To keep an eye out for latecomers, this door was kept ajar, allowing for the outside noise and cold to enter. This was a mild evening, but I’m not sure I’d be at all impressed on a much colder night. I was also totally unforgiving with people popping in and out during the performance. It shows a total lack of respect, not only to fellow audience members, but worse, to the actors who couldn’t fail to notice this given the intimacy of the seats to the performance area. A ‘no re-admittance’ policy would seem worth consideration. Let’s hope this can easily be addressed; after all, this is the venue’s opening show.
And with its opening show, it has certainly made its intentions clear – unusual venues deserve unusual plays. Skin A Cat is, quite bluntly, 90 minutes worth of exploration of the sexual growth of Lydia Larson’s Alana. With an opening scene that sees Alana describing her first period, it’s clear this a play is not going to hold back on any punches. So while the female half of the audience all nod in understanding of Alana’s plight, most of the male half fidget uncomfortably. From that opening scene the directness doesn’t change, as Alana talks about her sexual experiences growing up. This isn’t a tale of female empowerment; it is not about how she was liberated by sex or taking control of her body. Instead, it tackles the difficulties faced by women with a condition known as Vaginismus, a condition that makes sexual intercourse painful or even almost impossible. Yet more reason for the male half of the audience to squirm slightly in our seats.
What takes this play from shockfest into a great piece of theatre is the writing and direction. Isley Lynn’s script perfectly captures the teen angst of sexual awakening, full of laughs that temper the discomfort. And under Blythe Stewart’s direction, the writing comes further alive. There’s a risk that the near monologue style would quickly become jaded, but instead it soars. Larson is supported by Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwlia, simply known as Woman and Man in the play credits; the monologue transforms into short scenes where woman and man play out various characters. Sometimes this is just vocally, as they stand in their corners with a microphone, at other times they join Larson on stage. Ahluwlia becomes every boyfriend and sexual partner that Alana has, so it’s quite a feat to keep up with who he is meant to be at any given moment.
It’s clear the play wants to normalise talking about sexual conditions and with its humour it succeeds in doing so. It approaches what is still very much a taboo subject and puts it so in the open you cannot but help take note. Skin A Cat is certainly different, and perhaps deserving of being the debut play in this very unusual venue. Maybe not a play to take a first date to, though.
Author: Isley Lynn
Director: Blythe Stewart
Producer: Zoe Robinson
Box Office: 020 7234 0486
Booking Link: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/skin-a-cat
Booking Until: 5 November 2016