Due to the crush of bodies waiting to see Titanic, I failed to make it into the first half of the Southwark Playhouse’s production of “The Bunker” (Morgana and Agamemnon (a two-play bill), so this review is only for Agamemnon.
The play is set in a WWI (trenches) bunker, a small building built within the theater; the roof is low overhead, and we sit on the wooden benches that line the four walls. There’s an exit to the trenches kitty-corner from the door we enter by (which is also used as an entrance by the actors, thus my inability to slip in), and a small table in the middle of the room. I thought it felt convincingly like a buried room, an experience aided by the speakers that made the booms of bombs vibrate through the structure.
The play is meant to parallel the story of Agamemnon (whose name I forget in favor of the daughter he murdered, Iphigenia), who, depending on which story you follow, is murdered by his wife and/or her boyfriend when he returns from the Trojan war. What we get is a young, injured officer, trapped and bleeding his life out underground while he hallucinates visits from his wife and (seemingly) relives choice memories. To me, the play had little of the feeling of Ye Olde Classic Greek Tragedy about it – instead, it was a bit like Incident at Owl Creek Bridge, with all of the sadness and terror of trench warfare – the feeling of young lives wasted, of a society that was about to change forever, of the generation of widows to come – rolling around the room like another character. The backstory, of the officer’s romance with his wife, of her sadness at him leaving for the war, of many unsent letters – to me it didn’t snap into the mold it was named to fill, but rather went on to form its own story of disappointment and lost hopes, alcoholism and loneliness. When he says his wife has gone funny, to be honest, I could not see a sensible reason for it within the story as presented; only with the Agamemnon overlay did it make sense that she’d want to kill him. But I couldn’t really buy it as anything other than some kind of strange hallucination brought on by pain and guilt – and even in that context it didn’t really work.
However, with the very strong performances by all of the cast members, this little logical gap wasn’t enough to put me off. I really enjoyed my EXTREMEMLY intense time in the bunker, and will probably be sneaking back to the Southwark Playhouse to see about catching the first play of the set.
(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Saturday, August 31st, 2013. It continues through September 21st.)