fringe: the bunker trilogy

adelaide fringe: the bunker trilogy
Last time Jethro Compton and the crew brought The Bunker Trilogy to Adelaide for the Fringe, we were supposed to see all three parts on the same night. Unfortunately that didn't happen and we saw Morgana and Agememnon together and then Macbeth a couple of weeks later.

This time around I managed to see all three parts on the same day, one after the other. A lot of what I said last time definitely holds true this time around, and while I'll try to limit the amount of comparisons I make between the two versions, they are somewhat inevitable.

The titular bunker has been placed inside Noel Lothian Hall in the Botanical Gardens, and unlike last time, the audience never sees the bunker from the outside, entering through one of the doors to the hall and being transported straight into the dirt, wood, sandbags and inherent claustrophobia of the enclosed First World War themed space. The action for all three plays takes place within the space, with the audience seated around the outside of the room and the actors filling the space in the middle.

Actors Hayden Wood, Sam Donnelly and Bebe Sanders all return, joined this time by Jonathan Mathews.

As with the previous version, one of the things that was still so amazing to me given seeing the three parts back to back to back in the same space with the same actors is the way all four actors switch characters so completely from one play to the next. Possibly Sanders is the least changed, but even she changes accent and personality in each role.

It also appears that Compton and writer Jamie Wilkes made a few changes to the scripts (at the very least just to Macbeth, or at least that's the change that I noticed).

I will say before I jump onto the individual plays that, minor differences aside, it all holds up just as well this time as it did last time. The acting, staging and the experience that is The Bunker Trilogy is one that's well worth seeing.

adelaide fringe: the bunker trilogy - morgana
The Bunker Trilogy - Morgana

Morgana is a take on the Arthurian legend, with Wood as a suitably kingly and dignified Arthur, Donnelly as a rakish if slightly bullying Lancelot, Mathews as the naive and loquacious Gawain and Sanders as a sweet Guinevere. It's also a story of three young men who have known each other since they were children and who are now in the middle of a war the likes of which Europe hadn't seen for a hundred years. And Wilkes finds all the places that those two stories intersect, but I do feel that this is more about the World War I story than the legend. Which isn't a criticism, I think it's works exceptionally well that way.

In a lot of ways it's the lightest in tone of the three, starting with audio of Christmas carols being piped into the bunker (which to me doesn't work as well as having the characters being in the space singing like they were in the previous version), although it does darken in tone towards the end.

As I said about the previous version, Sanders has less to do in this play than in the other two, but that's mostly because this really is the story of the relationship between Wood, Donnelly and Mathews, in a lot of ways the characters that Sanders plays are merely accessories to that relationship. And you believe the relationship right from the word go, the three men have an easy chemistry that makes their interactions, both good and bad, completely believable.

adelaide fringe: the bunker trilogy - agamemnon
The Bunker Trilogy - Agamemnon

For Agamemnon, both Mathews and Sanders command all attention... Mathews as the titular Agamemnon and Sanders as his unnamed wife, Clytemnestra. In fact one of the most interesting things that I noticed about this play is that nobody is referred to by name (I guess due to it being too strange to have English characters called Agamemnon and Clytemnestra to be honest), and I don't think I noticed it the first time.

While this is very much Mathews and Sanders' times to shine, both Donnelly and Wood do excellent work here as well, Wood as meek and bumbling Aegisthus and Donnelly as an unnamed (but Scottish) battlefield soldier who takes care of the wounded Agamemnon. As I mentioned earlier, all of their transformations between this play and Morgana are the most extreme I think, especially Wood and Donnelly.

To me though, it's Mathews who really dominates this whole piece, flicking between the clear agony of a fatally wounded Agamemnon on the battlefield to the man that wooed Clytemnestra in the flashbacks which make up the other half of the play. Likewise Sanders does her best work here, especially in the latter part of the play where she comes to hate her absent husband.

The moving between past and present, which is a technique used in all three plays, is best used here I think, or at least due to both the lighting design and the use of the space, they're the most clearly defined sections between "then" and "now". Once again, the beginning of the play has been changed, without the characters already being in place when it starts, which I think is a loss to both this and Morgana.

It's the ending that puzzles me most of all though... I'm still not sure which of the two endings is actually the true one... or if they both somehow are.

adelaide fringe: the bunker trilogy - macbeth
The Bunker Trilogy - Macbeth

My obsession with Macbeth is well documented, and I still believe that the way that Compton and Wilkes have streamlined Shakespeare's original story down to the pure elements of the relationship of Lord and Lady Macbeth and Banquo is one that the Bard himself would have heartily approved.

Unlike the other two plays, this one features the original Shakespeare prose as opposed to more naturalistic speech, but the way it's been pared down is incredibly elegant.

This is also the only one of the three plays to keep the opening from the previous version where the three male actors are in the space as the audience enters, wearing gas marks and just being the creepiest thing ever without them having to do a great deal.

The masks are used well through the whole show in fact, both to signify the minor characters (and to not confuse the audience when an actor is playing three or four different roles), but most powerfully to signify the other-worldly characters... both the witches and the spirit of Banquo... as these shambling, twisted, zombie-like creatures. Removing the faces of the witches and making them almost empty vessels filled by evil spirits works incredibly well... and using the gas masks, which themselves signify a menace that itself can't be seen but can be felt (poison gas) is incredibly smart.

I feel like of the three, Macbeth is the one that has perhaps had the most changes, the best of which is the ending, which I mentioned last time as coming a little too soon and cutting out the battle between Macbeth and Macduff completely. Now there's an actual resolution instead of the instant cut to black, and it's definitely a change for the better.

Donnelly is brilliant again as Macbeth, there's something about him in general that is both magnetic and commanding, part of which he brings to Lancelot, but which he completely hides as the unnamed soldier... but as Macbeth he's as crazed and bloodthirsty as you'd want your Thane of Cawdor to be.

I feel like I've been somewhat harsh on Sanders overall, and while she does good work as the Lady to Donnelly's Lord, she just seems a little less passionate than her fellow actors... it's a shame, she does so well in Agamemnon, and I would have thought the fire she had there would have translated well to Lady Macbeth, but it just felt a little flat in spots.

Wood once again gives a strong performance as Banquo, and as I said last time, that friendly, open quality he brought to Arthur and Aegisthus makes him an ideal Banquo (there's also something about the relative height difference between Donnelly and Wood that manages to say a lot about Macbeth's ambition without it ever needing to be said aloud).

And Mathews is relatively absent from a major role this time around... he does play a lot of the incidental characters as well as Macduff right at the end, but seeing the plays in this particular order it seems like he'd be happy to take a slightly back seat after putting everything into Agamemnon.

All in all though, it's a fantastic adaptation of the Scottish play.

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