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Performed April 24th to 27th 2013

Bunkered - April 2013

Drama club goes bonkers in the bunker

WHAT would happen if a Royal Navy Cold War intelligence bunker, complete with staff, was simply forgotten about?

A station full of all the necessary monitoring equipment on the North-East coast, which was never decommissioned as planned in 1991, was the setting for the latest offering from Riding Mill Drama Club.

Written by Lynn Brittney, the laugh-out-loud comedy was performed to a packed Riding Mill Parish Hall on four nights last week.

It tells the story of four Navy staff who have slipped under the radar and managed to avoid redundancy while other such bunkers were stood down and consigned to the history books.

And while the Ministry of Defence computer system continues to issue the loyal staff with their pay cheques, they continue to report for duty, in an error that has gone undetected for more than 20 years.

Having signed the Official Secrets Act, Peter (Rob Allcock), Joan (Jean Buckley), Mags (Hazel Harrison) and Bill (Joe Tobin) manage to edge ever-nearer to retirement without telling their families of the debacle.

In an effort to keep the bunker fit for service, they even continue a breeding programme for carrier pigeons, which are kept on site in case of an emergency.

Their secret is jeopardised by Peter, a chief petty officer with a strong sense of responsibility, when he decides to bring a friend in to bring all the equipment up to full working order.

That friend is Harry (Sandy Gardner), who also happens to hold strong anti-establishment beliefs, and is the man Mags calls her “idiot brother”.

It isn’t long before his tinkering with machinery activates a signal which is sent to Naval Headquarters, who are understandably alarmed that there is life within what was thought to be a defunct facility.

Although it is initially put down to trespassing kids, a 52-strong platoon of trainee marines in the area are drafted in to search the bunker.

But the real hilarity begins when the armed platoon commander, Connor (Shaun Fenwick), storms the bunker with the least useless of all his recruits, Taylor (Gaia Hudson), in an effort to get to the bottom of the rogue signal.

Their arrival is a complete surprise to three of the bunker staff who are busying themselves making tea and sewing, while would-be mannequin Peter is caught modelling a fetching wedding dress.

Extreme self defence methods deployed expertly by Taylor and a cat worming tablet administered by Mags are soon the only ways to keep a claustrophobic Connor under control when the bunker goes in to lock-down mode.

And as Naval Commissioner Shelton is called to deal with the incident personally, the audience are left on the edge of their seats wondering what the consequences will be for the staff and whether they will keep their jobs and pensions.

Instead, when Shelton offers them the chance to buy the bunker to run it as a museum, they jump at the chance.

Shaun Fenwick as Connor stole the show, while the comedy partnership between him and Gaia Hudson as Taylor was memorable, and responsible for the biggest laughs of the night.

However, the entire eight-strong cast put in solid performances across the board and were a credit to director, Moyra Gardner, and producer, Frances Holmes.

Great care and attention had also clearly gone into costumes and set design which, coupled with the ice cream in the interval, made for an authentic theatre experience.

All in all, the performance was another professional show from the cast and crew of Riding Mill Drama Club, who never fail to impress.

Hexham Courant Link

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2013 Bunkered stage plan

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