Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival

Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania is a riotous piece of gig theatre at the VAULT Festival

“Let’s go girls”

It’s 1999 and punk band The G-Stringz aren’t just out to party, rumour has it there’s a rep from Diamond Records in the audience and maybe, just maybe this is their big break. Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania, written by Cara Baldwin, weaves together past and present as tales of the band’s formation mix in with what impact it has had on their lives so far, all soundtracked by a raucous gig.

An ambitious work, it taps into the festival spirit well – the show did well in Edinburgh last year – as the band constantly spills off the stage to smash the fourth wall, even trying to encourage a mosh pit at one point. And Hannah Benson’s astute direction teases out just the right energy from Baldwin and her castmates Freya Parks and Catherine Davies. Continue reading “Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival”

Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival

For all its funeral-based shenanigans, there’s something warmly, beautifully, life-affirming here in the interactive A Wake in Progress at the VAULT Festival

“When it comes to it, I will be remembered in the most romantic, bullshit way possible…”

This is the story of Henry. Except it won’t be when you see A Wake in Progress, as the finer details of this Fine Mess & Leila Sykes production are improvised every night, using audience suggestions to shape the action and flesh out back stories around a young person diagnosed with a terminal illness and given just months to live.

Joel Samuels’ script sees our protagonist opting to stop treatment and get on with the business of living the life that remains, and some of the more powerful moments here come in the interactions with loved ones and family who can’t comprehend such a choice. There’s also some pretty punchy stuff around the language of death, our tendency towards euphemism instead of facing the truth head on. Continue reading “Review: A Wake in Progress, VAULT Festival”

Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival

A one-man Bon Jovi musical in the mind…Paul O’Donnell’s We’ve Got Each Other has no right to be as funny as this, a highlight of the VAULT Festival so far

“Well that was fun
And that’s all it needs to be”

When Paul O’Donnell grows up, I’m pretty sure he’ll age into The Drowsy Chaperone’s Man in Chair, And now I’ve got my niche musical reference out of the way, we can turn to the plethora of injokes and satirical jabs that are scattered throughout his inspired one-man all singing, all dancing Bon Jovi musical spectacular We’ve Got Each Other

Well it would be a spectacle, except he hasn’t quite got the budget to mount the whole thing. So he’s talking us through it, asking us to use the power of our imagination to fill in the gaps as he narrates the story to us under the glow of an IKEA floorlamp (cos he can’t afford a follow-spot…). It’s a ridiculously, almost criminally simple set-up, but one which pays huge dividends in its generosity of spirit and in O’Donnell’s pitch-perfect delivery. Continue reading “Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival”

Review: ManCoin, VAULT Festival

Felix Legge’s ManCoin proves a  chilling reminder of how shallow wokeness can be, playing at the VAULT Festival now

“I’m one of the good guys, remember that”

#notallmen right? Felix Legge’s play ManCoin puts the case that, well, it really could be, it really probably is. Guy White wears his wokeness like a badge, his every statement parsed to align with liberal sensibilities, his new cryptocurrency designed to reward those who carry out good deeds. Right on man!  

But peek beneath the proffered bleeding heart and a shell of fragile masculinity becomes apparent, revealed in all its ugliness when Guy has a fight with his girlfriend Polly and a drunken snafu positions him at the forefront of the men’s rights movement. From there, his persecution complex runs wild, showing just how deep – or otherwise – self-proclaimed wokeness is. Continue reading “Review: ManCoin, VAULT Festival”

Review: Yours Sincerely, VAULT Festival

Letter-writing never seemed so much fun as in the hugely likable Yours Sincerely at the VAULT Festival

“They say the art of letting-writing is dead”

Any show that references Céline Dion’s epic key change in ‘All By Myself’ is onto a winner, nevermind featuring a lip-sync there of. So I was always going to be well-inclined towards Will Jackson’s Yours Sincerely. But there’s something more here too, a generosity of spirit that makes it a show I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  

When Will finds that he has accidentally nicked 300 2nd class stamps from the Post Office, his instinctive response is to revive the lost art of letter-writing. So he pens missives to old flatmates, ex-boyfriends, childhood crushes, family members, customer service departments…no one is safe. And he reads us those letters, and their responses, a picture of a young man at a crucial point in his life emerges. Continue reading “Review: Yours Sincerely, VAULT Festival”

Review: Violet, VAULT Festival

Some beautiful lighting work elevates Bebe Sanders’ Violet at the VAULT Festival

“A change is as good as a rest”

Bebe Sanders’ Violet should not be confused with Jeanine Tesori’s Violet, though they do share a touch of the same DNA in tracking an epochal journey for a young woman. Here, Bertie is 27 and when she loses her job, boyfriend and flat in quick succession, she abandons London to find refuge in a cousin’s house by the seaside.

Feeling a failure and lacking direction, it is only a chance encounter with an old woman on a beach that offers a chink of light through the darkness of her depression. But from there grows an unlikely friendship as Violet employs Bertie as an assistant and their relationship develops to include chip shop pickled eggs, swing dance lessons and no small amount of wine. Continue reading “Review: Violet, VAULT Festival”

Review: The Noble Nine, VAULT Festival

The delightfully daft The Noble Nine at the VAULT Festival asks what happens when people like The Famous Five grow up

“It’s a caper!”

Any play that starts with a face-off to ‘Mmmbop’ has to be worth your attention right? And Matt Parvin’s The Noble Nine proves to be pretty much just that with its frantic, scrappy charm filling the echoing chamber of the Cavern at the VAULT Festival. Matt Parvin’s offbeat comedy is a grown-up spoof of Enid Blyton’s tales of team-based, derring-do and even has its own catchphrase “leave it to the Nine!” (which does also feel like an incomplete Brooklyn 99 tagline…). 

This Noble Nine are the grandchildren (plus a furry friend) of author Estelle West who took inspiration from their childhood games to pen a series of best-selling novels. Now they’ve grown-up and grown apart – “when was the last time that we were together” – but the news that Granny is on her deathbed and the promise of their inheritance brings them reluctantly back together. And what seemed like fun games to play take on a more sinister tone as some unchildlike truths begin to rear their head – what a caper indeed. Continue reading “Review: The Noble Nine, VAULT Festival”

Review: Salaam, VAULT Festival

There’s something really quite delicately compelling about the story Sara Aniqah Malik’s Salaam is telling at the VAULT Festival

“I don’t know how to help, or what to say, or what to do”

It’s Ramadan and Mariam (an excellent Yasmin Wilde) is having to convince her teenage daughter Rema (an equally good Raagni Sharma) of how seriously to take this most holy of months. Their peace is broken when a pigs head is lobbed through their front window but it’s soon apparent that it is more than the glass that has been shattered, Rema’s fragile confidence is in pieces too

Sara Aniqah Malik’s Salaam exploring the pervasiveness of Islamophobia, the ways in which its violence encroaches on life whether personally, through personal attacjs, or subliminally, through the unquestionable intimations of phrases like ‘acts of terror’. And she shows us the generational difference too, Mariam able to throw off abuse more easily, in order to shelter her daughter as much as anything. Continue reading “Review: Salaam, VAULT Festival”

Review: VELVET , VAULT Festival

VELVET proves a powerful piece investigating #MeToo from a gay perspective at the VAULT Festival

“People say I look like Tom Daley without the body”

Tom’s had a big break in getting the lead in a fringe play right out of drama school, he’s just moved in with his banker boyfriend of three years, and he couldn’t be happier. Ish. He’s even attracted the attentions of a big casting director but when Tom rejects his less-than-professional advances, he finds himself trapped in a nightmarish downwards spiral. 

VELVET is written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe and taps directly into the #MeToo movement, approaching it from a slightly different angle. Tom may be cute and fit but acting is a cut-throat profession that mostly pays peanuts and as such, leaves far too many people open to exploitation. And sure enough, as he promotes his play on Grindr, Tom is drawn into a dangerous game. Continue reading “Review: VELVET , VAULT Festival”

Review: Blue Departed, VAULT Festival

Serafina Cusack’s beautifully poetic Blue Departed at the VAULT Festival marks her out as a writer to watch

“Some people are better off dead”

There’s a memorably dizzying poetry to Serafina Cusack’s writing, which makes her play Blue Departed an absolute treat to listen to and one that I wanted to be able to read straightaway to recapture its strange beauty and pitch-black humour. Interestingly, the publicity cites Dante’s Inferno as a key influence though it proves to be an inspiration that is worn lightly and likely for the best.

Cusack’s focus is on Him. And Her. A couple deeply in love, with each other and with smack, so much so that when he comes home to find her OD’d on the floor, his instinct is to spend as much time with her as he can, rather than report her death. Thus Blue Departed plays out as a fantasia in which Him desperately tries to keep Her alive, replaying key moments in their relationship and talking to her, even whilst trying to get through her funeral and wake. 

Cusack’s lurid poetry is particularly well-suited to the evocation of drug-fuelled highs and crushing comedown lows and as a contrasting vision in mint green and aquamarine sequins, Mark Conway and Rebecca Layoo give a powerful portrayal of how addiction can take root anywhere and turn into a trap from which it is nigh-on impossible to escape. Both revel in the linguistic contortions of the script and are suitably frantic in their energy.

They’re accompanied by an effective Richard James Clarke as His Brother, trying to keep him rooted in reality whilst acting as his guide through the Circles of Hell which are basically the steps of dealing with a death – the funeral, the wake, getting through a day without them. Henry C Krempels’ production occasionally leans a little too heavily into frenzy, particularly when there’s writing as rich as this to savour, but it is more than enough to mark Cusack out as one to watch.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Photos: Lidia Crisafulli
Blue Departed is booking at the VAULT Festival until 27th January