The Bunker Trilogy: Agamemnon

James Wilkes

Jethro Compton Productions

C nova

From 30 July 2014 to 25 August 2014

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

The idea of a trilogy of plays seems inherently Greek, so it makes sense to start with Agamemnon, even if it is, strictly speaking, the second in the sequence.

However the order is not important. The trilogy is connected by setting, not by plot, as each relocates known stories to a First World War bunker, created in stunning detail as it surrounds the whole audience with corrugated iron walls and low ceiling and a dirt floor. This would be impressive for a fixed production, but for the Fringe it is remarkable.

This isn't Aeschylus' Agamemnon, although it is based on the same conflict between the warrior of the title and his wife Clytemnestra—the names are retained in the programme but are never used in the dialogue. However our "now time" is when the titular officer is wounded and has taken refuge in the bunker with a soldier, gradually working his way through a case of rum to dull the pain.

The story of the couple's meeting and courtship is told in what may be flashbacks or possibly the hallucinations of a dying, drunken man. The couple are very much in love, but he feels under pressure to join up. However she resents him leaving her, pregnant, to go off to fight, and leaving his cousin, who is medically unfit to fight, to look after her doesn't mitigate his desertion.

In these flashbacks, she becomes closer to the cousin (Aegisthus) and her desire to not have her husband back becomes murderous—but is this reality or all in his guilty mind as he slips away?

The ancient story translates very well into a powerful piece of theatre, the setting giving it added intensity. There are excellent performances all round, if a few indulgent moments, from James Marlowe in the title role, Hayden Wood as the awkward and shy cousin, Sam Donnelly as the soldier and Bebe Sanders as the resentful wife with some beautifully subtle touches that really come across in the tiny venue.

However this is possibly the most uncomfortable I have been in a Fringe venue, and that is saying something. The room is stifingly hot (it must be hell in an army uniform) and the wooden boxes on which the audience sits are very hard and the front row slightly too low to sit on comfortably. I was very sore after seeing two Bunker Plays in a day, so I'm glad I've saved the third until next week.

This show is certainly worth seeing, but I'd advise stripping to a thin base layer before entering the room—and bring a cushion.