A set of green steps leads down into a basement.
It’s a sprawling space, full of interconnecting rooms, with walls of bare brick, exposed pipes and caged-off electrical equipment. It has a slightly musty smell and though it is a warm evening outside, the temperature down here is on the chilly side (I am grateful I have brought a scarf).
It is a highly atmospheric space. The layout of the place puts you in mind of the lair in Silence of the Lambs, or of a series of sinister prison cells, or the sight of bodies sheltering during a wartime air raid – though this last one is perhaps partly down to the fact that the walls have been plastered with First World War posters. Look, there’s Lord Kitchener and his moustache and he wants you.
The posters are part of the backdrop for a new, short show by Donkeywork which is based on a true story. One corner of the space has been decorated to resemble a shabby little London pub, while another has become a cramped and sad bedroom that someone has attempted to brighten with an embroidered bedspread.
A young woman, Milly (Abigail Gallagher), is befriended by a rather too kindly woman after missing her train at King’s Cross and soon slides into prostitution. Meanwhile Harry (Matthew Leonard) a young soldier broken by war, returns home from the trenches and tries to begin his life again, but he is unable to quell the violent rages that bubble inside of him, at one point even attacking his own mother.
They man and woman meet and are drawn to each other, but even the most optimistically-minded will have gathered by then that theirs is a story that doesn’t end well.
The nature of the space means that it is sometimes difficult to manoeuvre the audience into the correct place quickly enough and there is an awful lot of shuffling through doorways and awkward arranging of bodies. (There’s a nice touch of camaraderie to this process though, with people checking that those behind them can see and making room for those who can’t). But, though Alan Sharpington and Rob Crouch's production is rather patchy and saddled with a number of practical problems, the company have created a plausible wartime world.
Given limited resources and a space that is presumably as difficult as it is freeing, they have created a gripping little show. This idea of battle turning normal men into killers, of something snapping, is a fascinating one, one it would have been nice if they could have fleshed out further, as there’s not enough in the way of build up before the properly shocking, but also inevitable, ending.
The basement is part of what was an English Language School near Waterloo Station. The building has sat empty and near derelict for some time and has now been taken over by squatters, the Oubliette art collective. They have patched it up to create gallery, performance and studio space.