Welcome to the Bunker! (Portius Productions) 2017 Toronto Fringe Review

Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes

Welcome to the Bunker! is an outing by Portius Productions that provides an escape from the looming end of the world – and from the gloomy tendencies of indie theatre. Playing at the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival, this production provides an unexpected ray of sunshine to the post-apocalyptic genre.

The play takes on the form of an introductory orientation by the bunker’s dwellers, Katie and Todd, as they brief us on the zombie virus that swept the world and provide us with survival tips interspersed with candid personal confessions. Where Kate is a persistent and neurotic optimist, Todd provides deadpan and bitterness that keeps her grounded in the real world – barely.

As a two-person show, the cast require a great deal of energy and earnest to carry the story and keep us engaged. Fortunately, duo Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes give us no reason to doubt them. As the production is both written by and lead by these two, the amount of care and depth put into their characters is apparent. These two have chemistry that could rival that of the screwball comedy stars of the classic Hollywood era.

It is a sharp and well-polished script, however the quality of jokes is a bit unpredictable. While some I downright howled at, others felt tacked-on or overused. The show’s concept relies so heavily on fourth-wall-breaking that their departure from it as the story progresses seems jarring. At other times, the comedy relied slightly too much on references – it can make some of the jokes fly over your head, or make you the lone person laughing at a gag only a few got or found funny. However, the mile-a-minute banter, as well as the razor-wit political jabs make up for the odd time when the comedy relies on outside pop culture knowledge.

This is not a show where stagecraft is complicated, but it is nonetheless thoughtfully designed and executed. The stage has a pantry arranged with survival necessities like food, toiletries, and a ukulele, and is accentuated with character quirks like Katie’s hot pink milk crate. The venue, Theatre Passe Muraille‘s Backspace, has an industrial vibe that helps to set the right mood for a survival bunker. It is small enough to feel familiar and make for a believable premise, but just large enough that the creeping sounds of the undead shuffling through the walls was a genuine fright.

It should be noted that scaring people is tremendously difficult to do in live performance, especially among theatre folk with discriminating taste. But with clever lighting and sound design, as well as leaving the audience to imagine their own visuals for the horrors of the zombie threat, this show pulled it off. Being funny, frightening and still having room for the complexity of human emotion in a play with less than an hour’s runtime is, by all accounts, an impressive feat.

Though the sense of humour this play has may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Welcome to the Bunker! tells a lively tale that focuses on optimism and friendship in the face of a troubled world.

Details:

  • Welcome to the Bunker! plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace located at 16 Ryerson Ave
  • Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
  • 50 minute runtime.
  • Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
  • Seating capacity is 55 persons.
  • Content Warnings: Strong language, audience participation

Performances:

5th July 10:00pm
7th July 6:30pm
9th July 9:45pm
11th July 8:30pm
12th July 4:45pm
13th July 6:15pm
14th July 3:30pm
15th July 1:00pm

Cast members: Clare Blackwood and Ryan F. Hughes. Photographer: Max Telzerow.

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