We Anchor in Hope is writer Anna Jordan’s brilliant revolt against the dwindling sense of community in our fast-paced city. She raves against the demand for new flats and upmarket gastropubs, by zooming into the lives of the 5 locals who frequent The Anchor, a traditional pub in Pimlico. The group decide to have a lock-in party on their last night before the place is due to be turned into a block of flats. As the night goes on though, we learn that this particular pub symbolizes so much more than just drinks and laughs. It is a sanctuary preserving complex relationships—and devastating secrets.
The production wastes no time in setting the scene at the Bunker—the entire theatre has been expertly transformed into a pub, complete with pints being pulled from a working bar in the main performance space. Low-hanging misty lights, and audience members sitting at tables onstage, ensure that such an authentic warm and chatty atmosphere naturally transitions into the cast leaping onstage in a boisterous opening physical routine.
Image credit: The Bunker
It’s the intimacy, the sheer chemistry of these five actors bouncing off each other, which really brings their complex relationships to life. Not only do they manage pacing perfectly (director Chris Sonnex has used delicious techniques such as two men playing pool to provide cadences in tension), but quieter monologues romanticise their closeness through rhyming poetic lines. In such a way, immediacy and nostalgia are evoked concurrently, by possibly the most convincing cast I have ever had the pleasure of watching in an off-west end play. Sound designer Emily Legg must be credited as she conveys the drunkenness of the night becoming more emotionally messy, through distorted music, inconsistent in volume. This meticulously managed immersion cannot be understated, especially with so much development for each character despite how different their backgrounds are.
Image credit: The Bunker
It’s only towards the end of Act 1 that we realise how many dark secrets between the cast have slipped into the thick pub carpet along with their drinks. Previously touched-upon, sensitive topics involving the characters’ families and relationships are delved into, turning previous drunken banter into aggressive, almost animalistic power plays between them. The silent poignancy of ferocious stares between the men, and a particularly intense stand-off involving a severed, sharp pool cue, ravages through the audience. Because of the animosity of the first half, every tense word in the second hits like a brick—again, Sonnex has mastered the art of tension here, in a truly believable, human way.
This is essential theatre, pulling us into closeness with vulnerable characters and then ripping those boundaries apart through shocking revelations. It could not be done though, without the enchanting chemistry the cast have with eachother, truly building The Anchor up as a beacon of community about to be destroyed by cold, modern demands.
'We Anchor in Hope' is on at the Bunker until October 19th, and tickets can be purchased here.