I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Where The Hell Is Bernard? So lets start with what I know. Borrowing heavily from established dystopian tropes, the play takes place in a world that has been taken over by a single omnipotent entity, ‘The Vine’. Humans exist to work and reproduce, they obey disembodied public service announcements, and are routinely executed at 80 years of age to ensure maximum productivity. When a box of personal items bounces back, four women from the Lost and Found office are forced to go on a mission to return them to their rightful owner, Bernard.
What follows is quite sweet. The dynamic of the women gradually breaking from their homogenous brain to discover their individuality is engaging to watch, and juxtaposes well against the still sterile background of the set and Big Brother style public service broadcasts. Like all good dystopian fiction, the plight of the protagonists makes us question the things in life we blindly accept – the quest for uniformity, the mundanity of routine and the assumed power of authority. But there isn’t necessarily anything new here.
At moments the show does shine in its own quirky, charming way. The physical comedy, for instance, is often utterly brilliant, and the singing and puppetry are beautifully done. From start to finish the play is choreographed to great effect, which enhances much of its message but might also be part of what holds it back. Engrossed as they are in their elaborate movements the protagonists fail to be emotive when it matters, meaning moments which should be deeply moving instead fall flat.
Haste Theatre have built a perfectly adequate dystopian world and the way they fill it is entertaining, but it’s not especially cutting edge. It feels more like an offshoot from the stories of Orwell, Huxley or Atwood than a fiction with an established heart of its own. To be fair though this structure has its advantages; the show is fun and it is a far funnier and much, much, more enjoyable way to digest the lessons of a dystopia than reading Huxley will ever be.