Tag Archives: The Vaults

“Bin Juice” at the Vault Festival

Cat Kolubayev’s comedy thriller is a little treat. A neat if queasy scenario, about a sinister waste disposal business and its new recruit, has great characters and a wicked sense of humour.

Firmly directed by Anastasia Bruce-Jones, Bin Juice benefits from three strong performers making the most of solid roles.

Adeline Waby and Madison Clare – both superb comedians – play the firm’s psychopathically quirky employees. There’s a great sense of their offbeat relationship being long established. Waby’s character is steely and smart, Clare’s deadpan and whacky, and both get great laughs from lines both blunt and surreal – a mix of nonchalance and concern is nicely handled. Into the mix comes Belinda, another strong showing from Helena Antoniou, who tackles the distinct humour just as well and adds a touch of mysterious tension.

Exciting as the Vault Festival is, it has to be mentioned (again) how poor the acoustics are. The venue does not serve this piece well. It’s clear that the talented cast have to shout more often than the script needs, a fair call on Bruce-Jones’ part but I’d love to hear a quieter menace in some lines.

The short running times at the festival also prove a drawback. Kolubayev plots well, playing with predictable genre elements, I really wanted to know more about the “someone” in charge who communicates only by phone. But the show feels truncated. More, please – let’s hope this piece can be expanded. A sense of shock at the abrupt end shows Bin Juice is as engrossing as it is gross!

Until 15 March 2020


Photo by Lidia Crisfulli

“All Quiet on the Western Front” at the Vault Festival

Incognito Theatre’s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s book deserves the acclaim it has already received for bringing a text to the stage in such fine style. The physical theatre the company specialises in is impressive. But a focus on Remarque’s reportage is preserved: there’s a sense of shock about the events of World War I – a trauma the writer lived through – that is carefully retained. Remarque’s often cold presentation of facts, combined with a passion to let the world know what he experienced, prove a powerful driving force.

Directed by Roberta Zuric, with that all-important choreography from Zac Nemorin, the style of movement sees the five performers frequently mirroring one another or creating short-hand gestures to evoke characters or actions. The idea of the soldiers as animalistic or as automatons is conveyed with marvellous efficiency. The scenes of battle are impressive, and the athletic prowess of the performers is fantastic. But the technique proves just as effective with quieter moments, revealing an intimacy between these brothers-in-arms. Shared glimpses of care and attention prove especially moving.

Taking the lead role as the narrator, Paul, gives Charlie MacVicar the chance to shine – his delivery of the pain, boredom and camaraderie experienced are all good, while the moments when Remarque challenges his audience (or at least those who stayed at home) really stand out. Special mention too for Angus Castle-Doughty, Incognito’s artistic director, playing the young Albert and the company’s older mess man Kat. But All Quiet on the Western Front is the definition of an ensemble show. Success comes from these troops working together; sharing not just the precisely directed movements but a sense of conviction about the story that they are telling.

Until 8 March 2020


“V & V” at the Vault Festival

While historical dramas aren’t to all tastes, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West make good subjects. The genius writer and her poetess-garden-designing lover are a biographer’s dream. Yet mixing their story with a tale of modern dating sounds tricky to me, a clear case of taking on too much and trying too hard to be relevant. Which goes to show you how wrong I can be… V & V proves to be a double treat that’s not to be missed.

The show is a quadruple achievement as two actors perform four roles flawlessly. EM Williams and Heather Wilkins are superb as the famous Bloomsbury couple and, in the present day, Lottie and Mia. Switches in time and parallels in the stories are dealt with impeccably by Misha Pinnington whose direction, like her writing of the play, is clear, concise and entertaining.

Heather Wilkins and EM Williams in V & V at the Vault Festival
Heather Wilkins and EM Williams

The epistolary form reveals the course of the two relationships with intensity, creating an intimate complicity with the audience. The beautiful letters between Woolf and Sackville-West are compared to online courting to great effect. Williams and Wilkins smoulder with Edwardian sexual repression one minute and show themselves superb comedians the next. Pinnington’s use of the letters shows her skill at editing – the material is wonderful. Meanwhile, the texted conversations turn into great crowd pleasers: from sexting and ghosting to deliberation over kisses and exclamation marks. The energy, and jokes, are great, while it’s fascinating to see how communication, and romance, has both changed and stayed the same.

V & V isn’t all light. Everybody knows how Virginia’s story ended (she must be one of the famous of suicides), while Lottie and Mia face problems, too. If I’d have liked Pinnington to provide a more overtly optimistic end for her contemporary character it only goes to show how attached I became to them; the restraint (OK, maybe realism) shown provides an emotional conclusion that packs a punch.

Pinnington’s skill is to show both differences and similarities between the couples so effortlessly. There’s no trace of period kitsch (zero trug count) or modern stereotypes. Four different women, all well delineated, and two very different periods in time are depicted with a light touch, while the common theme of love is explored with both humour and sensitivity. It all adds up to one great show.

Until 8 March 2020


Photos by Ali Wright

“Father’s Son” at the Vault Festival

James Morton’s helpful title prepares us for the topic of his nicely focused piece. The playwright achieves an impressive amount in three entertaining scenes, less than an hour in length.

Spaced between 1974 and 2018, we see three fathers and sons having difficult conversations. The set-up serves as a fine showcase for the talents of its two performers. Mark Newsome plays the fathers with gruff touches along with plenty of confusion and fear that make the roles frequently touching. In truth, Newsome isn’t quite old enough for the parts, but he rises to the challenge. Kenny Fullwood plays the teenage sons and is better cast, bringing truth to a similar range of emotions.

Father's Son at The Vault Festival photo by Ali Wright

There’s no doubt Morton agrees with the perennially discussed crisis of masculinity. But, blissfully, there’s little trace of therapy groups or theories behind his writing so that the dramatic situations he presents have an authentic feel. The dialogue could be worked on, the script being too quick to give the characters’ speeches, so a sense of conversation suffers. Maybe director Carla Kingham, who has done a good job overall, could help here?

It’s Morton’s plotting that is his forte. The trio of scenarios reveal themselves well – you want to know what’s going on – showing variety, particularly for Fullwood, and plenty of tension. Connections between the scenes provide another level to ponder on but are understated – shadows rather than statements – showing impressive restraint on Morton’s part. There’s an evocative air to the show that is questioning rather than proscriptive, indicating an exciting maturity to the writing.

Until 28 February 2020


Photo by Ali Wright

“The Future is Mental” at the Vault Festival

I like the idea of presenting a show of short plays. And citing Black Mirror and Killing Eve as inspirations shows playwright Rosie de Vekey has a keen eye for popular trends. But if your event is a selection of sketches, any response is bound to count hits and misses. Regrettably, the tally here is poor.

There’s a clear standout piece called ‘Decluttering’, a prize-winning short story driven by a neat, topical, idea. Let’s just say I knew there was a reason to worry about the Marie Kondo trend. Suzy de Lezameta does well in the role of a woman who takes tidying up too far. Another story, ‘Mood Lighting’, has the germ of a good idea, where our feelings displayed to the world by a colour-coded bracelet – the mind boggles nicely.

As for the other four pieces, the verdict has to be a fail. The ideas feel old and clichéd: a silly satire on social media with a beyond the grave twist that lacks impact, a paranoid monologue about artificial intelligence and a couple of weak political satires, one of which riffs on Logan’s Run (and that’s from a long time ago). The attempts by De Vekey to pick up on trends and concerns – even if they are justified – don’t have enough originality to really make us think.

The delivery doesn’t help De Vekey’s writing, and directing her own work may have been a mistake. Too many small roles lead to a relatively large cast looking lost. And a series of nervous performances results in too many uncomfortable moments. It’s a mix of painful diffidence and overcompensation on the part of a cast that seems poorly handled. Even worse, little here shows promise for development. I’m afraid the majority of the scenes just don’t have a future.

Until 23 February 2020


“Salmon” at the Vault Festival

Eve and Sea Productions, created by Eva Lily and Constance Eldon McCaig, tackles themes of grief, depression and drug use with its premier show. It is an insightful piece that boasts a strong performance but loses its way with surreal touches.

Angus, devastated by a recent bereavement, is a well-drawn character and the details of his life on a Scottish island are convincing. Joshua Going’s delivery of the role deserves praise. Here’s a recognisable young man, now a little too old to party, dissatisfied with the options on offer if he wants to grow up. Going shows confusion, desperation and anger, while making the metaphorical mentions of Angus’ favourite fish (arguably overused) an endearing obsession. The delivery is bold – showing strong directorial decisions – as Angus stumbles physically and mentally trying to remember a recent past while lost in a drug- and grief-induced haze.

It’s understandable that the script contains crazed moments, not a bad idea in itself, but unfortunately the delivery of trippy panic or anxious paranoia causes problems. There are technical issues (the voiceovers are difficult to hear). And it doesn’t help that both performers joining Going, Eden Hastings and Ben Spring, double up roles that are so different. While overlapping conversations work well, showing a talented team, too many superficial touches, from sound design to costume, feel predictable. Trying – but not quite managing – to be crazy creates a disappointing aftertaste to a play that has potential.

Until 14 February 2020


“On Arriving” at the Vault Festival

Given its subject matter of refugees, this monologue from Searchout Theatre is sure to be powerful. The topic, which has led the company to partner with the charity Refugee Action, is an increasingly pressing concern. But the show also deserves attention as theatre: convictions aside, its execution has to be the focus for review, and the show is exceptionally strong on many fronts.

The painful decision taken by a young woman to leave home, not once but twice, is explored, and we hear of perilous journeys and camp life. Yet Ivan Faute’s skilfully written script is surprisingly understated. Despite the horrors undergone, observations have a reasonableness about them that creates a consistent voice – a tone that is engaged, credible, and indicates in-depth research on the part of Faute. Where our unnamed refugee is coming from or going to isn’t stated. Instead of politics, the rich details in the show are thoughts and feelings.

Sophia Eleni in 'On Arriving' credit Steve Gregson
Sophia Eleni

Director Cat Robey’s close appreciation of the text values its intelligence. It would be so easy to make On Arriving relentless, but there is a degree of abstraction from the character that gives us space to think. The many questions and observations highlighted challenge just as much as they create sympathy. Our subject can still analyse and empathise, no matter how awful the situation.

Of course, the play contains traumatic drama. The scene of a boat crossing is particular intense, almost uncomfortably so, in creating a sense of claustrophobia. Special praise goes to the play’s performer, Sophia Eleni, who does an exceptional job of conveying incredible tension while making the action so clear. Throughout, On Arriving is a huge achievement for Eleni, and surely an emotionally draining experience. Each scene is presented with care for its particular concerns: the mix of pain and anger, anxiety for the future and reminiscence about the past are carefully considered and explored. Such detail and complexity create agency for a character so cruelly denied just that degree of care.

Until 9 February 2020


Photos by Steve Gregson

“In My Lungs the Ocean Swells” at the Vault Festival

New writing is always a bit of a risk, not least for the brave creatives who put their work forward. Understandably, not all offerings land and this piece, a coming-of-age story and a tale of life in a fishing community, flounders.

Writer Natasha Kaeda has her heroine, Julie, move to the city while childhood sweetheart Simon tries to continue the family tradition of being a fisherman. The romance is sweet enough and initially there are some nice touches about growing up near the sea. But the stakes seem too low for their author and elements of allegory, politics and the environment are flirted with.

Unfortunately, none of these additions convinces and the delivery from Jack Brownridge-Kelly and Jenny Walser isn’t confident enough to save the day. With a style that’s vaguely declamatory, and some uneven accents, director Tash Hyman needs more guidance for the cast and more ideas about how to deal with the traverse staging.

There are moments when the ocean of the title feels like a real presence that show Kaeda has promise. But her talents are submerged in confused dead ends. An interesting idea of ‘sea people’ desperately needs developing. And there’s too much stumbling over details – I was confused as to when the play was set (when did people last leave school at 15?). And a bizarre nostalgic feel needs further explication: does Simon really believe his industry should carry on unchanged? Especially when he has recounted (too often) how things are different now.

Sad to say, things get worse. Far more care needs to be taken with an ending that includes a desperate act. As the festival’s content warning points out, the show has an ‘abstract reference to suicide’ but – while I am sure it is not the intention – the handling of the subject is so brief that it could be described as glib. Reactions to events certainly need more explaining in order not to appear horribly dismissive. Overall, the impression is of a piece that doesn’t know what it wants to do, stumbling into clichés, over reaching and running out of time as result. Kaeda casts her net wide, hinting at too much, and ends up catching nothing.

Until 9 February 2020


Illustration by Madison Clare

“The Legend of the Holy Drinker” at the Vault Festival

It’s a bit of puzzle as to how political HUNCH Theatre wants its adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel to be. Efforts are made to establish the story of Andreas, a homeless alcoholic immigrant, in the here and now. But the story itself is close to a fable, with timeless qualities that fight with rooting it in London in 2020. Working with this tension, a talented team has created a thought-provoking show full of theatrical invention.

You have to suspend disbelief. A series of “miracles” mean that Andreas is gifted cash – only to drink it away again and again. It takes us to big issues about charity, alongside which the text engages with religious themes. Just as impressive is the central role – a complex, naturalistic, character despite being within such a fantasy. Andreas has plenty of faults so that it’s (too) simple to condemn what he does with his life, let alone the donations. But he is also easy to understand. With the desire to be “honourable”, the balance between circumstances and victimhood are deftly explicated. It’s a fine line walked by Oleg Sidorchik, who takes the lead role with great skill: he has to be a stage drunk, something of a clown, a man manipulated by his own jealousy and prone to violence, but with a moving back story, good intentions and weaknesses. Sidorchik manages to convey it all – bravo.

Similar praise is deserved by the whole cast – Oliver Bennett, Ed Davis, Emily Houghton and Eva Mashtaler – as this is a true ensemble piece. Acting as narrators as well as extra characters, they create a special atmosphere for the story: elevating its simplicity with a sense of fun. Bennett commands attention from the start – opening up questions about the motivation of the businessman who hands out cash. Both Houghton and saxophonist Davis manage to inject humour with the smallest lines and gestures, while Mashtaler proves impressive on a Segway… while she is performing as the sculpture of a saint.

Yes, that’s right, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, which includes a starring role for Saint Teresa, has many surreal, possibly alcohol-fuelled, moments. And they lead to a lot of memorable theatre. Director Vladimir Shcherban forefronts the movement skills of his cast, uses sound effectively, and has a brilliant eye for the simple use of props. What the team achieve with some plastic sheeting, cardboard boxes and coloured umbrellas is great. And it’s also appropriate. Such refined theatricality via lo-fi methods parallels that tension between complexity and simplicity – impeccably balanced by an intelligent and careful company.

Until 2 February 2020


"The Wild Unfeeling World" at the Vault Festival

This year’s arts extravaganza under Waterloo Station got off to a fantastic start for me with Casey Jay Andrews’ gorgeous one-woman storytelling show.

Presented as a “reimagining” of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick,in some sense the damp subterranean venue is, for once, a useful setting for a story that involves so much water. With some cute audience participation, Andrews isn’t afraid of getting wet – and you might even imagine the roar of trains above you is the sound of the sea. By her own admission, the treatment of the classic is irreverent. There’s plenty of creativity and humour in its emotional subject matter and this show boasts that magical combination of wit and wisdom.

The Wide Unfeeling World is actually the story of Dylan, a young woman down on her luck and having a manic episode. Captain Ahab, the obsessed whaler in the book, happens to be a three-legged cat pursuing our heroine because of a road accident. Got a problem with that? As crazy as it sounds, Moby Dick and mental health are an appropriate match. And getting to a kernel of the book ends up providing insight about a lot more than literature.

The telling of this new tale is special, too. There’s an intriguing balance between the character, with her “noisy mind”, and Andrews as a narrator with a fertile imagination. Through her skill, we come to care for them both. Elements of fantasy (including a wonderful morsel about Dylan’s sketchbook) are carefully rooted in snippets of science and the everyday. It’s interesting – I loved the idea of ‘desire lines’ in the landscape – and has a journey rooted in the reality of the city: safe to say most festival-goers will recognise the atmosphere and geography of the London depicted.

With fantastic charisma and a great deal of warmth, this is a simple show of sophisticated storytelling. The script is a blissful mix of poetry and approachable asides and the delivery wonderfully paced. The tone is caring and sweet, but never shies away from the reality of how tough life can be. The result is a funny and particularly intimate experience to learn from and reflect upon.

Until 1 February 2020