The Fringe is an incredible month for theatre but boy does it have some soulless venues. Hotel conference rooms, broom cupboards, university lecture halls with wheezing air conditioning like an arthritic elephant. It is therefore a treat to enter a space so fully imbued with the atmosphere of the play it is hosting - even if in the case of The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana, that space is a clammy bunker in which you are immediately required to get more intimate with your neighbours.
Two love stories intertwine in the claustrophobic confines of a World War One trench; Arthur and Lancelot yearn for Gwen left behind in Cornwall; Gawain chases the semi-mythical whistling French girl who may or may not be the spirit of Morgana le Fay. Three school friends are the only ones of their Arthurian boyhood order left standing and are coming to realise that childhood games of the Knights of The Round Table bear little resemblance to world warfare.
The beginning few scenes of banter are somewhat reminiscent of Blackadder Goes Forth: Dan Wood playing earnest leader Arthur even has a look of Tim McInnerny. Sweet yet innocent of both women and war, James Marlowe’s Gawain may not be a dyed-in-the-wool Baldrick but is undeniably the clown of the threesome. Finally, Sam Donnelly’s brooding Lancelot tends to hide unspoken desires for his best friend’s girl behind an aggression peculiar to repressed private-school boys. The bickering and music-hall songs dynamic of the men soon gives way to more fantastical elements; Serena Manteghi’s Gwen floating around the bunker singing old Cornish folk songs, is a very solid manifestation of the life the three soldiers have left behind.
The relationships between the characters are clearly and sensitively drawn, years of friendship are made apparent through an awkward hand on a shoulder or a half smile. Gawain’s stilted admission to Morgana that he loves his friends is deeply moving.
Transitions between scenes I felt could have been made crisper and more interesting - especially considering that the short vignette nature meant there were a lot of them. I also found the denouement of both love affairs a little unsatisfying, not to mention that Manteghi’s Morgana and Gwen remained little more than enigmatic ciphers conjured up through the imaginations of men.
Nonetheless, Morgana is an engrossing, charming riff on an ancient legend, married neatly with an account of claustrophobic desperation and the longing for home, the past, or something that never existed in the first place.