I entered the foyer of The Bunker Theatre on Thursday night and was quickly ushered into the space. I sat myself down. I was not in the usual black box I had expected but instead ‘The Anchor’, a local London pub replete with pool table, fully functioning bar, sausage rolls in front of me and, before I knew it, a pint in hand too! The Bunker had fully committed to the setting, even putting on pub quiz nights and Karaoke after the show. It was an impressive undertaking by designer Zoe Hurwitz, who established a space that felt inclusive to the audience but also slightly unnerving. We were the locals for the night but what would we be witness to?
The British pub is a unique performative space, full of masculine energy; bravado even. Though often a symbol of the past, it centres on a community which has the ability to pivot between a consistent symbol of comfort and a destination of destruction. I was therefore intrigued to see what themes award-winning playwright Anna Jordan, writer for the triumphant BBC series Killing Eve amongst other works, would explore.
“Pivot between a consistent symbol of comfort and a destination of destruction”
Jordan captures the pub as an intoxicating space, a place to escape to, as landlord Lenny often proclaimed “drink in your hand, head in the sand”. The action focuses on the final night at The Anchor before it is shut down for good, to be renovated into new bougie flats in a London that appears harsher than ever. The impending anxiety the pub’s closure is not lost on the audience and Jordan does not shy away from writing characters who are dealing with challenging dark times in their own lives.
There is a sharp contrast between the two halves of this play. The energetic movement sequence at the beginning of the production injects revelry and energy into the room and it becomes clear that director Chris Sonnex has worked hard to build up some really strong comedic ensemble work amongst the group of undeniably talented actors. However, the structurally positioned monologues from each of the characters revealing their ‘backstory’ in the first half in particular became slightly predictive and jarring in parts. The use of music and lighting to cue these moments often felt like more of an interruption of the high-energy ensemble work than an asset to the piece.
The production finds it’s rhythm and fulfils its ambition more so in the second half, where the drinks have been flowing and the darker and more vulnerable sides of all the characters are revealed. The language moves away from puns and one liners to fast moving, electric exchanges between the broken and bitter Lenny and the rest of the group. Actor Valentine Hanson manages to capture that unstable moment in a pub when the possibility of a violent outburst hangs in the balance. Hanson’s portrayal of Lenny as the bitter landlord stuck looking backwards at the ‘glory days’, unhealthily dependant on alcohol, is heartbreakingly all too familiar. Played by Daniel Kendrick, Barman Bilbo is a lover of all things Lord of the Rings. Kendrick has real presence on stage, his ability to move between moments of hilarity and heart-breaking vulnerability is an impressive feat, delivering incredible character storytelling through stillness. The other cast members, Alex Jarrett, David Killick and Alan Turlington all deliver grounded character performances, all showing points of real strength.
We Anchor in Hope delivers moments of real brilliance. It becomes all too clear by the end of the play how shielded the characters are from the real world when they enter through the pub doors. Having sought shelter from the brutality of their reality, whether loneliness or fear for the future, the play ends with the characters being forced back out into that reality and the audience is left reflecting on what is next for the pub locals they have shared their evening with.
Image: Helen Murray