Review: Tiger, VAULT Festival

“It’s a good idea, some people might find it funny”

Grief does funny things to people. Different things too. Some retreat into themselves, trapped in a fug of isolation they can’t see a way out of. Others go out of their way to show the world that everything is fine, going so far as to dress up in a tiger suit, even if they’re dying on the inside. Joe Eyre’s Tiger, directed by Will Maynard, brings the two together with some cheesecake, some yoga, a whole lotta David Bowie and a brand of neatly intelligent comedy.

Comedian Alice is the one experiencing the first kind of grief. Utterly poleaxed by the death of a loved one, she’s completely withdrawn from the outside world and even from her doctor boyfriend Oli, whose patience is being stretched to breaking point after six long months. The hunt for a flatmate brings a man dressed as a tiger to their front door replete with a suite of knock knock jokes and a chink of light in the darkness of Alice’s depression.  Continue reading “Review: Tiger, VAULT Festival”

Review: Elsa, VAULT Festival

We coulda had it all…or so they told us. But though Elsa is a graduate, she’s also an aspiring actress in a city full of aspiring actresses and so she’s jobbing in a coffee shop, listening in on the exhausting pace of a world where art is being devalued in the face of picture-perfect Instagram feeds.

Isobel Rogers’ Elsa is a one-woman song and story affair, a paean to the joys of eavesdropping but also beautifully reflective on the state of the world, and Elsa’s own place in it. Snippets of personal dramas breeze in and out of the coffee shop doors and Rogers captures them perfectly with a scathingly funny sense of humour.

Continue reading “Review: Elsa, VAULT Festival”

Review: Be Prepared, VAULT Festival

“I can’t get on the bus cos I’m waiting for this old man to call”

What is the right way to grieve? Is there even such a thing? Ian Bonar’s Be Prepared throws up such questions as we meet Tom, and by extension Mr Chambers, who are having a tough time of it.  Tom is mourning the death of his father, Mr Chambers the loss of his wife but thing is, they don’t know each other. The only reason they’re in contact is because the elderly Mr Chambers keeps mis-dialling Tom thinking he is a funeral director.

And as writer/performer Bonar takes to the stage in a brilliantly conceived opening, we get to see how this accidental meeting develops into something of a life-raft for the pair of them, a way of starting to process the discombobulation that accompanies the death of a loved one. The shots of weird dark humour that pop up in the most unexpected of places, the strange comfort that comes from unburdening to someone who doesn’t know you, the distressing weight that feels like it will never lift.

Continue reading “Review: Be Prepared, VAULT Festival”

Review: The Internet Was Made For Adults, VAULT Festival

“I’ve seen all my friend’s wieners”

It feels only too right that an emerging theme at this year’s VAULT Festival is a brutally honest depiction of what it means to be a woman in this modern world. And whether it’s #MeToo or #TimesUp or both, the voices of the young, inspired theatremakers corralled under Waterloo are perfect for capturing that zeitgeist and giving it gloriously full expression.

Hitting the Wall Productions’ contribution to the debate is The Internet Was Made For Adults, exploring how the greater potential for ‘connection’ facilitated by the internet has had a disproportionate and disconcerting impact on how we all – but particularly young women – see love and sex. Meshing cabaret with theatre, this all-female team make a vibrant impact.

Continue reading “Review: The Internet Was Made For Adults, VAULT Festival”

Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival

“My favourite film ever was Beauty and the Beast until we learnt about Stockholm Syndrome in PSHE”

As she acknowledges from the start, Katie Arnstein’s one-woman show Bicycles and Fish is light on both bicycles, and fish. What it is heavy on, is the story of when, aged 16 in a village outside of Lichfield, she stopped being a girl and became a woman, a decision the world made for her. Blending wittily concise stand-up with songs that combine the musical comedy sensibility of the inspirational Victoria Wood with the characterful musicality of Gywneth Herbert plus the forthright power of the confessional, this is a seriously impactful hour.

And it is a well-constructed one too. Arnstein’s writing is so beautifully rich that you can’t help but get hooked on any number of fascinating details that pass as she evokes that feeling of possibility that comes from being a carefree kid. I’d happily watch a spin-off show about the Lichfield Song Contest, or the GPs’ receptionist and her blush-saving acronyms, or June and her broken egg, or the school photo – particularly the school photo!  Continue reading “Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival”

Review: Think of England, VAULT Festival

“It’s my favourite thing in the world, dancing”

It’s 1942 and Bette and Vera have scored themselves a nice commission from the War Office to tour the country hosting tea dances to boost morale of the brave men and boys fighting the Nazis. But whilst they’re hanging the bunting and handing out barley sweets, it emerges that there’s more on offer here than just dance cards and as a group of three war-weary Canadian airmen turn up for the night, unexpected emotions threaten to bubble over.

Madeline Gould’s Think of England is beautifully written and in its opening two-thirds has an absolutely gorgeous feel to it. Tilly Branson’s production has a lightly immersive nature (don’t sit on the front row if you’re shy…) which sees us as active participants sequestered in this air raid shelter with the cast. And as we’re introduced to the cast, there’s a sensitive exploration of the massive impact of the war on a personal level – the relative freedom afforded to the women who can now work, the abject terror faced by boys tasked with the enormity of fighting an actual war when they’re scarcely adults.  Continue reading “Review: Think of England, VAULT Festival”

Review: Gypsy Queen, VAULT Festival

“We’re all friends of Dorothy but you’re the cowardly lion”

Rob Ward has form when it comes to examining how homophobia is entrenched in the world of sport. His one-man show Away From Home looked at whether the Premiership might ever be ready for an out gay footballer with intelligence and integrity. But it is to the boxing ring that Ward now turns his attention with his play Gypsy Queen, already an award-nominated success after touring the UK and playing Edinburgh last year.

Dane ‘The Pain’ Sansom is the son of a boxing legend and a pretty nifty boxer himself, ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell is a bare-knuckle champion from the traveller community making his first steps into the world of professional boxing. And when George rocks up at the gym owned by Dane’s dad, sparks soon fly as their respective cockiness rubs up against each other, and sure enough, it isn’t too long before you can remove the -iness from that last bit as they get to know each other better in the shower. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy Queen, VAULT Festival”

Review: Double Infemnity, VAULT Festival

“Having a vagina doesn’t make you a feminist and it sure doesn’t make you a victim”

A one-woman feminist re-interpretation of the crime noir genre, the idea of Double Infemnity felt right up my boulevard from the moment I read about it. And marking the first collaboration between two female theatre companies, Little but Fierce and Paperclip Theatre – see, the VAULT Festival really does bring people together! – it was an enterprise I was happy to support.

I have to say though, that the reality didn’t quite match up to my expectation. Part of the problem lay in having seen a sharp and hilarious gay interpretation of the genre last week at this very festival in Tumulus. By comparison, Double Infemnity seemed to struggle in determining whether it was subverting, homaging or pastiching – the claim to be doing all three simultaneously feels a bit of a stretch. Continue reading “Review: Double Infemnity, VAULT Festival”

Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival

“I’ve never had a lover die on me before”

Chemsex is one of those subjects that always seems to pop up at festivals and sure enough, in week 1 of the VAULT we find a new play on the very subject by Christopher Adams. But with a sparkingly fresh and darkly witty take and some intelligent and imaginative direction from Matt Steinberg, Tumulus emerges as a cracking piece of theatre, a “chilling queer noir” that entertains as much as it elucidates.

Anthony is well and truly addicted to the chemsex scene in London. He’s holding down his job as an assistant curator at the British Museum just about fine, though that promotion always seems to elude him, as his evenings and weekends are taken up with chasing the next amazing high, the next unmissable party, the next insatiable guy. This high-functioning addict has his certainties shaken though when his one of his latest hook-ups turns up dead on Hampstead Heath. Continue reading “Review: Tumulus, VAULT Festival”