2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see

With less than a week to go before the 2019 VAULT Festival opens, I wade my way through the catalogue and come up with 20 shows I think you should catch – in their own words

Now in its seventh year, VAULT Festival returns this year from 23rd January to 17th March with a broad and diverse programme of more than 400 shows in a range of atmospheric venues throughout Waterloo. And as ever, the remit is to be as big and bold as impossible, with the festival featuring theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, late night parties, and much more besides.

It can be a little overwhelming to figure out what you want to see, the majority of shows run for a week (Wednesday to Sunday) so you’ll need to move pretty sharpish once you’ve decided – there’s the VAULT Combo deal which saves you money booking more than one show, and some 241 deals available through the Stagedoor app. And to help you, I’ve identified 20 shows (and it could have been so many more!) that appealed to me and asked them to sell themselves in 10 words or less in order to grab your attention.  Continue reading “2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see”

Review: Ladykiller, Pleasance

Some excellent monologuing here in The Thelma’s Ladykiller playing a short run at the Pleasance after conquering Edinburgh

“It’s not what it looks like…”

That there was something special about Madeline Gould’s Ladykiller was obvious even in the 15 minute format I saw it in three years ago as part of The Thelmas’ Ladylogue. So to see it all grown up to nearly an hour in length and having smashed an Edinburgh Festival run to huge acclaim, feels like a well-earned victory for a striking piece of story-telling.

Directed by Madelaine Moore and acted by Hannah McLean, this monologue takes us right through the wringer in the aftermath of a bloody murder. At first sight, it was the chambermaid, in a hotel room, or was it…? Gould and McLean toy brilliantly with our expectations as our protagonist presents her case and we buy into it. Cos she’s a woman innit.  Continue reading “Review: Ladykiller, Pleasance”

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”

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods

Review: Ladylogue, Tristan Bates

“I’m a pretty normal sort of person”

In a theatre world reveling in David Suchet’s Lady Bracknell and Craig Revel Horwood’s Miss Hannigan, one has to be grateful for companies like The Thelmas and their unflagging resolve to readdress this balance. Their particular focus lies more in encouraging new writing and none more so than in Ladylogue, their evening of six one-woman shorts, all written by emerging female playwrights, playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe.

And a vivid and vibrant collection they make too in Madelaine Moore’s production here. From Maria Yarjah’s self-performed Family (Mis)fortunes tracing a young woman’s trials on social media once her parents have discovered Facebook to the poetic swirl of Sarah Milton’s The Night Tella, expertly delivered by Joana Nastari’s edgy narrator, the mood shifts considerably throughout the evening but never failing to place women’s stories at their heart. Continue reading “Review: Ladylogue, Tristan Bates”

Review: Fair Em, Union

“I never saw a harder favour’d slut”

The front of house hoarding that beckons you into the Union Theatre for Fair Em makes no less than three references to Shakespeare, but when a show’s main selling point is that it wasn’t in fact written by him, it sets an impossibly and unnecessarily high standard. It was misattributed to the bard by one of Charles II’s librarians and thus occupies a place in the Apocrypha where it has languished unproduced for over 400 years. But not even Phil Willmott’s normally sure touch can disguise the weaknesses of the play with a production that misfires on several levels.

The plot intertwines two love stories. First is well-to-do maiden Em who, when her father is banished by the new king, is forced to slum it as a miller’s daughter far from home and fends off the amorous attentions of the local suitors through feigning disabilities. And then there’s William the Conqueror, determined to claim Blanch, the Princess of Denmark for his wife but on finding she’s less comely than her portrait suggested, tries it on with her friend who is a Swedish princess and already entangled with the ambassador. Jealousies, deceptions and a lack of bread threaten the equilibrium of all as the play then gathers to a final scene of unparalleled unlikeliness. Continue reading “Review: Fair Em, Union”