NEXT week sees the official opening of an exciting new performance space in the capital.
Located under the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark Street, but not part of it, The Bunker will have a 110-seat auditorium and bar and will kick off its first season with a performance of Skin A Cat by Isley Lynn.
A former underground car park, The Bunker has been transformed by its owners and managers, friends Joel Fisher and Joshua McTaggart who have promised a break from the ordinary not just in their programming but what the venue will be used for more generally.
For as well as a theatre showcasing new writing, the venue will curate art installations and host film screenings, as well as discussions, conversation, debates and workshops, and see performances in dance, music and poetry.
In a chat ahead of the launch next week, Joshua admits that opening a new theatre in an era of cuts to the arts is a “risky business” and at just 25 he acknowledges he’s young to be in this position but he exudes a confidence in the project.
“Joel and I met last spring at the Young Vic and realised we were interested in the same kind of things and had the same ideas about what a venue should be trying to do for its audiences and engaging new artists,” he tells me.
“My background is as a director and Joel’s is more West End musical theatre and we didn’t expect at this stage in our respective careers to be in the position of thinking about owning and running our own space.
“However we got chatting and it seemed to make sense for us. We hadn’t specifically looked for a place in South London but when Joel met the landlord of this space we realised what an incredible opportunity it was and so that was it.
“It was serendipitous in the way it happened and we believe that the best things happen when you least expect them. So we decided to take the risk and see what happened. We have been thrilled with what we’ve been able to achieve and the support we have had in getting the venue off the ground.”
So far the pair have raised more than £80,000 mainly through private donations to get the project off the ground which is no mean feat considering they’ve never done this before. The funding they’ve secured so far means they can keep prices competitive at around the £19 mark.
And they have had to learn about health and safety, licensing and other aspects of running a theatre.
“We are not businessmen by trade but creatives so it’s been a learning curve,” says Joshua.
“Rather than see it as a challenge, not least getting the funding, we like to think of it as an adventure and one that’s been exciting to communicate what we are doing to potential funders. Our landlord has been fantastic and extremely supportive.”
And they are very clear about what the venue will be used for.
“We both want it to be more than just a theatre,” Joshua explains. “We want the audience to be entertained from the moment they walk in through the door and long after the show has finished.
“It’s a place where people can hang around both before and after the show if they want to, have a drink, relax, meet the actors and creatives involved and talk about what they’ve seen.
“There will also be an emphasis on new writing as we want it to be relevant and exciting and we’ve tried to keep the prices down as much as possible. It’s a real shame that some people are priced out of going to the theatre because tickets are so expensive.
“We really want it to become a cultural hub, a creative community, and a partnership with the audience and performers.
“The bar is very much part of the space and when it’s not in use the stage will be used for art installations and other performances as well as a place to have discussions and debate.
“I think audiences have an appetite for venues like this and what we are trying to achieve. And given the fact people are working more and longer hours, I think it’s nice to know there is somewhere to stay a bit and relax.
“In terms of location it’s incredibly accessible with London Bridge and Borough High Street so close,” he adds.
“We are also right under the Menier and although we are nothing to do with the Menier at all, it is great being so close because people already know about the great work they do there. What we aim to do is complimentary to what they are doing and so we hope we can bring in new audiences to the area.”
So far alongside Skin A Cat, their first season includes a transfer of Philip Ridley’s play Tonight with Donny Stixx which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 plus a new pop rock musical Muted which will be staged in December.
Interspersed with that will be Made In LDN Bridge nights and movie nights.
“We are very excited about the future of The Bunker and hope that audiences will share our vision,” says Joshua.
Skin A Cat is on at The Bunker, Southwark Street between October 12 and November 5. Tickets cost £19.50. Visit www.bunkertheatre.com for full listings.