Interview: Joel Fisher and Joshua McTaggart on The Bunker – London’s New Theatre
We asked some questions to young impresarios Joel Fisher and Joshua McTaggart about The Bunker, their new theatre space South of the River.
Tell us about your careers so far, what’s led you to open The Bunker?
Joel: I’ve been working for the last couple years as a director and producer, mainly working in musical theatre and opera. I have worked for a few companies as well as doing some freelance producing work. We weren’t looking to open our own theatre but I was just struck by the potential of the space when I first walked in.
Josh: I’ve worked mainly as a director and a dramaturg of new writing, but spent a big portion of last year serving as the General Manager for the HighTide Festival. I’d had a taste of the management and logistical side of large-scale theatre projects and I was keen to bring those two experiences together. Running and programming a venue, which brings with it the opportunity to collaborate, curate, and also direct, was a dream situation. Like Joel says, we didn’t set out to open a theatre, we set out to make theatre. But the moment we stepped into The Bunker (or the shell of a former underground carpark as it was back in January), we both knew that we had stumbled upon a hidden gem.
What makes The Bunker different from other theatres in London? What’s the space like and how did you find it?
Joel: The Bunker is a theatre in a transformed underground car park. The building was transformed into a storage room for a while, so it hasn’t had cars in for a few years, but the concrete aesthetic and underground vibe still characterise the space. I happened to meet the landlord, Donald Riley acting for Southwark Square Limited, who was keen to turn this under-utilised space into a new performance space for the city. That’s when I reached out to Josh to see if he wanted to partner up on this mammoth task.
Josh: When Joel reached out and I saw The Bunker, I knew the space was special. Joel and I had so many ideas about how we could make the space work but we focussed on ensuring the experience for our audiences was different from most theatres in London. I’m fascinated by the event of going to the theatre. Not just the play itself, but what happens before, what happens at the interval and what happens afterwards. I’ve been stunned by incredible productions and have been jolted from this experience by being ushered out of my seat very quickly. At The Bunker, we want the space to belong to the audience and our artists so that an evening at The Bunker is more than just seeing a show. There will be curated events to engage with before and after, from a small gallery space to dance, poetry, and discussions after the show.
What can an audience expect to experience in the first season?
Josh: Our season is about showcasing ambitious artists for audiences who want adventurous theatre. We’ve tried to put together a season that engages with a wide spectrum of writers, work, and ideas. The ethos behind The Bunker is that audiences will want to come and see shows here even if the work is new or the creative team complete unknowns. We’ve tried to balance work by known writers like Philip Ridley, Conor McPherson, and Fiona Doyle, with emerging talent like Isley Lynn and the Interval Productions Team who are presenting the new British pop-rock musical MUTED. Although the work is at the core of The Bunker identity, audiences can expect their entire evening to be different night to night depending on what other activities are happening in the space when they visit.
Who/what inspired you in your drive to create the Bunker?
Josh: Whenever we came up against issues with The Bunker, I always reminded myself that we were creating a space for artists and audiences that would provide something special. So, I guess, it was my collaborators and my responsibility to them that keep me going in the moments of maximum stress.
Joel: For me, my Dad gave me some of the most sound advice in constructing a solid and successful business plan. Although I am an artist, my Dad reminded me that for the creativity to happen the business structure needs to be secure.
What are your favourite free and cheap places to go to in London?
Josh: In terms of affordable theatre, I think the Young Vic’s £10 tickets for Under 25s is one of the biggest theatre bargains in the city. If I have a spare hour when I’m in central, I often find myself wandering around the National Gallery (I could look at Turner’s Dido Building Carthage all day long!) and with the Tate Modern on The Bunker’s doorstep I have popped in to look at the Rothko Seagram murals a couple of times on my lunch break. It’s amazing how much free art there is to see in London. Finally, my go-to restaurant that is an absolute steal and has food, service, and atmosphere to die for, is Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly.