Roundup: Vault Festival 2023

REVIEWS: Skip to: Hutchy the Hare, Con-Version, Not Your Grandma’s Folk Tales, The Messiah Complex, Villain Interrupted, Sobriety on the Rocks, Vermin

The Vault Festival deserves a break. They were the first to be hit by Coronavirus and the last to come out of it. But one curtailed festival, one planned cancellation, and one disastrously unplanned cancellation better, Vault Festival has bounced back in 2023 with a full-run festival operating like nothing has happened. So what do they get in return? Their landlord has turned on them. The people who they rent their space from will not be letting the space to them again. No sooner are they out of one existential crisis they stumble into another.

I was planning to open my roundup with my observations of how Vault 2023 was operating in general, to see how this bodes for the future. For example, I thought the Festival Pass was insanely good value for money and I was surprised there wasn’t more uptake. However, that is now just tinkering around the edges, and instead we’re facing more fundamental questions of where the Vault Festival will run next year, and it they run at all.

As such, I’m going to go straight into the reviews, and also give my thoughts on another (unrelated) controversy. Then I will look at what options I can see for Vault 2024 and beyond. But first thing’s first …

The reviews:

Right then. Been quite a long time since I’ve done some Vault Festival reviews. As I only tend to do flying visits of Vault, I only have a few reviews to post so I don’t separate them into Pick of the Fringe and so on, like I do for the fringes. With Edinburgh and Brighton, I’m moving towards reviewing pretty much everything; with Vault, however, I’m only reviews things I enjoyed or saw potential to. If I hated something, I’m quiet. (Usual caveat applies: if you want to know what I really thought of something, my preferred currency for a bribe is beer.)

Hutchy the Hare

This can best be compared to the cult series Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared, itself best compared to Sesame Street, if they let Stephen King write the script and David Lynch direct it.

Hutchy the Hare follows three workers who apparently do nothing but make dresses, interspersed with educational videos featuring larger-than-life mascot Hutchy the Hare and his friends in the “play garden”. It doesn’t take long realise what’s going on here: these three men are being conditioned to always have the mental age of children. What’s more, these messages in the video about how Hutchy’s friends should behave get somewhat nefarious. Do what you’re told, kids, speak when you’re spoken to and don’t answer back. Which is why Perry, Frog and Beaver sit in nervous silence when the foreman comes in to take the dress.

hutchy-the-hare-vault-festivalOne tweak I would recommend is to bring the first video to the start of the play. I’m saying this because without this it can come across and three people dicking around on stage. I’ve seen a fair number of unfunny plays that were dicking around for the sake of it, and this one deserves better than the perception. But once you understand what’s being set up here, the full Black Mirror-esque extend of the setup becomes clear. It is promised that those who work the hardest will go to the utopia known as the “play park”; but it’s quite obvious that no-one ever goes there – if the place even exists. There is a dynamic between the three remaining workers (the fourth one having disappeared in worryingly unexplained circumstance): at one end, Perry is the most clued up to something not being quite right; with Beaver so deep in Stockholm syndrome his is incapable of escaping even when he has the chance.

However, we never quite work out what the shadowy forces at work really want. There is one question I would urge Scram & Scrum Theatre to ask – and this is a bizarre question, but trust me on this one: what motivates Hutchy the Hare? I never thought I’d be asking why a megalomaniac cartoon rabbit behave the way it does, but there does have to be some internal logic to this dystopia. What is more important to Hutchy: supplying the finest goods to the best customers, or cruelling controlling the workers trapped inside? Why does Hutchy routinely dispose of workers for the most trivial acts of insubordination? I strongly recommend working the story around this.

A good start fro a young theatre company though. If there’s one lesson for Scram & Scrum Theatre to take away, it’s that comedy is harder than you think and it’s as important to make sense as it is in the most serious drama. But it’s great to finally have something for those of us with the obscure sense of humour to be Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared fans. And if you’re not a fan of Lyncheqsue kids’ TV shows, now’s a good time to start.


Out of all the performances I saw at the Vault Festival, Paper Mug Theatre wins by a convincing margin.

We begin with Mother in church with her new baby, which everyone sings hymns to soothe the crying infant. We learn later that she never used to be that religious, but when she and her husband moved to a new town, it was the local church who made her feel part of the community. Twenty years later, she’s is one of the most devout followers. Unfortunately, she has also subscribed to their views on homosexuality, and when her Son got to close to the Neighbour’s Boy, she does everything in her power to change him back, including sending him away and signing him up to conversion therapy sessions.

con-version-at-vault-festivalNow her estranged son is back for a visit and she’s desperate to make it all right for him, only for him to spell out what he thinks of what he was subjected to before leaving for good – but she won’t have that ending. So we go back. Son now visit with his new Fiancee – a very one-dimensional woman whose sole character trait is welcoming her new mother-in-law. (This woman, it’s later implied, is a figment of her Mother’s imagination, lifted wholesale from a sort-of girlfriend his son had when he was thirteen.) Unfortunately, in spite Mother’s efforts to get the story she wants with the son she wants, it keeps veering away from her ideals. We keep going back again, and again, and again.

There were times when I lost track of what was going on, what was real, and what was imagined. Normally, I would mark down a play a for that – here, however, it’s the whole point. We see very little about what actually happened in conversion therapy, but we do see a lot of the psychological damage inflicted – the confusion in the play, I presume, reflects the confusion in his head. The absolute stand-out moments, however, are Ruth Redman’s performance as Mother. It is a desperately sad depiction: in her eyes, she has not signed her son up to conversion therapy to punish him, but the save him – and if the price of his is being hated by her own child for the rest of her life, she accepts this as her duty to be a mother.

I wasn’t quite convinced it needed to be as confusing as it was – towards the end, where it’s suddenly questioned whether the daughter of this family ever existed, that to me felt like one layer of confusion too many. I am also obliged to question whether the play actually achieves its stated objective of raising awareness of Conversion Therapy in the UK. We hear very little about what the conversion therapy actually was, or who the hell is organising it over here; only a surrealistic depiction of the aftermath. I don’t think it would have worked to put this in the play, but it might have been worth leaving some information in the auditorium for people who want to know more. I’d certainly have been interested.

To be honest, however, this doesn’t really matter. The vast majority of people already think conversion therapy is bad – and in the case of a play in the Vault Festival about this very issue, I’m going to guess you already have 100% of people on your side. So there’s no point discussing winning people over to a position which, in all probability, everybody already believes. What this play achieves instead, however, is exploring why somebody would do this to her child – and this play show how it can be, not rooted in bigotry or cruelty, but a deeply misguided act of love. I do hope writer Rory Thomas-Howes realises what he’s achieved here.

Not Your Grandma’s Folk Tales

Due to the way Vault[‘s scheduling works out for me, I sometimes end up watching something outside of the theatre category I normally choose, so this time I decided to see storytelling for a change. Storytelling is a popular device used in both theatre and comedy, but this is a rare appearance of traditional storytelling with no bells and whistles – just the story.

The Suitcase Storytelling is Minnie Wilkinson and Niall Moorjan. They have clearly built up a following in London and much of the audience were fans accumulated from previous gigs. The storytelling itself pretty much does what it says on the tin. Minne and Niall share out four stories from a mixture of traditional sources such as Greek and Norse mythology.

Of course, this is not Shakespeare and there is no set text to doggedly adhere to. They Minnie and Naill opening embrace the tradition of stories being passed from storyteller to storyteller, with individual storytellers free to embellish the stories as they choose. One change made here is that the stories are more gender-diverse, but the only reason I know that’s a change is because they expressly told me what they’d changed. Other than that, they are pretty faithful to the traditional versions and you’d need to be an expert to know what bits were theirs.

In spite of the name, the stories are quite family-friendly and if I was a grandma I’d be quite happy telling these. It’s hard to rate this as I have very few storytelling performances to compare this to. But it’s delivered well and their follow show they’re getting it right. Does what it says on the tin, and does it well.

The Messiah Complex

Bag of Bear Theatre’s play has a lot in common with Con-Version. A dim view of authoritarian religion, and a presentation of the story as confused as the lead character’s state of mind.

Sethian used to be happy in a community with a common purpose – for that, read “cult”. Today he is a prisoner in a complex in a future where all faith is banned. It is never explicitly stated how we got to a situation where the authorities are clamping down so hard, but it probably has something to do with what his cult was up to. The first scene has a nervous Sethian preparing to do the task set by Sophia. Won’t say what his task is as this is a late-play revelation, suffice to say that his cult wouldn’t exactly be on anyone Christmas Card list after that.

Neither side seems particularly sympathetic here. The cult Sethian was taken from is basically a checklist of everything wrong with a cult: a manipulative society that offers comfort and familiarity as a pretext for unquestioning obedience – in fact, this looks like the sort of cult where the leader gets to screw any woman he fancies, Sophia included. The new atheist order, however, is just an brutal and dogmatic as the cults it replaced. The four rules projected at the beginning of the play are not the rules of the cult but of the new godless order. This type of atheism, it appears, is just as religious and the religions it deposed.

However, I can’t help thinking there was meant to be a lot more to this play that I didn’t pick up. I sometime got lost watching Con-Version, but there there were whole plot themes I couldn’t follow. I do wonder if it was necessary for this detention facility to have so many futuristic gadgets in it. There’s is a pretty reliable playwriting rule that if you’re going to make one thing complex, try to keep everything else simple – and whilst there’s some leeway, it was hard enough to keep track of everything else without also establishing what the rules are in this sci-fi universe. What I suspect wasn’t meant to be lost, however, were the meanings of numerous philosophical references. A pity, as I’m sure this play had a lot more to say than I heard.

The staging was good, and the projections during pre-show were a promising start to what could be a gripping thriller. I don’t know what the background is to this play, but I wonder if this was originally written as a longer play. If so, I sympathise. It’s difficult to get more than 70 minutes on stage in Vault Festival conditions, but there’s only such much you can cut a script before it ceases to make sense. So I’m not sure whether the way to go is a simpler plot or a longer play, but I’m sure there’s more potential yet to be realised.

Villain, Interrupted

This was a casualty of the Vault 2022 cancellation and ended up doing a couple of performances at The Laurels, which both sold out. And it’s not hard to see why: a play set in a rehabilitation centre within a prison for super-villains was always going to be a seller.

We’re in superhero land, and society is clamping down hard of super-villains. From now on, everyone convicted of a crime is screened for superpowers, and if you have them, it’s life imprisonment, no ifs, no buts. Some people think this is too harsh, and amongst them is Gina. When the management of the hospital make a half-arsed gesture of therapy sessions, she eagerly signs up. The good news is that Gina is gentle and unassuming and if anyone can give a supervillain a fair hearing it’s her. The bad news news is that she is also trusting and naive. Some people in prison really are as bad as they say.

Dolls in Amber make a big thing in their publicity of all the issues the play covers. I don’t they needed to do that. Plays that work as issue checklists usually stagnate quite quickly; this, however, flows quite naturally without anything looking shoehorned. Much of the storyline could have been lifted from a straight prison drama, with the characters ranges from petty offenders out of their depth in prison life, to hardened criminals working the system, and inside the middle someone who was treated badly on the outside whose anger had terrible consequences – just adding superpowers to all of them. It’s a complicated story to tell with a cast of four playing numerous characters, but they handle it well and it’s easy to follow.

What’s a pity, however, is that some of the best bits of the play finish before they’ve begun. I won’t say too much as this twist is too good to have a spoiler, but the strongest character one prisoner in who’s particularly manipulative: seemingly an innocent man put away on trumped-up charges, but in truth a far nastier piece of work and far more dangerous than anyone realises. But he gets foiled halfway through the story and is never heard of again. But, come on, you can’t just leave it there, the ace baddie supervillain is NEVER foiled halfway through the story – surely he’s gone one final dastardly plan stored up for the finale.

The main potential, though, is the projectionist KT Roberts providing the occasional background as per superhero comics, and supplying the “WHACK” and “BAM” in the fights. That was pretty awesome, but we didn’t see that much of that (and for anyone who’s seen Handheld Arts’ Gated Community, I’ve been amazed how much you can do with a projector). Now, to be fair, it would have been a staggeringly complicated operation to have done this throughout the play, requiring meticulous choreography of both projectionist and actors, so if they chose to play it safe and stick with something easy and manageable, I don’t blame them. But if the sell-outs in the Laruels are being repeated elsewhere, Villain, Interrupted should be in a strong position to have a life after the Vault Festival outside of fringe theatre constraints. I’d love to see what could be made of this if they can do the full works on superhero fight choreography. And since plays outside of festivals tend to run a bit longer, maybe we’ll have space for the immortal line: “You thought you’d seen the last of me, hadn’t you?”

Sobriety on the Rocks

And my reviews are rounded up with a solo performances from a Tad Kiwi Productions, which, as you may have guessed, is from New Zealand. Somehow, this was the only solo performance I saw throughout the festival – I usually see loads at fringe theatre level – but it is easily one of the most confident performances I’ve seen. Renèe Buckland plays four characters, and the most visually striking part of the performance is the transition of the four characters in the style of the Haka Dance (after all, this is New Zealand).

3bf74cebc25007a78f3a757ddcb04437The danger of swift costume-free transitions is that the audience never works out who’s who. With a combination of coloured lighting* and positioning on stage, however, it soon becomes clear how these people relate to each other. The key character is Richard, who is recovering in hospital after a serious life-changing drink-drive accident. There is also his wife and teenage son, one carrying the weight of her increasingly dysfunctional husband, one slowly coming to the terms he’s probably entering adulthood without a father. Completing the four is Kimberly, the first responder at the scene of the accident. She is especially irate that Richard was drink-driving and doesn’t seem to give a damn over what he’s done to the pedestrian.

*: Footnote: I am obliged at this point to raise that dependency on colours is something you should avoid – a lot of people are colour blind and won’t see that you’ve done. Hopefully, however, enough has been done with the choreography and positioning to follow this without. I’ll leave it up to someone who save the play without colours (or without lighting at all) to say how it works out.

But whilst Kimberly has very good reasons to be angry with Richard’s selfishness, that’s not his main driver. The character of Richard is heavily influenced by Buckland’s own father, and the overriding impression here is … Richard just can’t be arsed any more. It’s one thing shrugging you shoulders over the accident you’ve caused, but Richard is has had it spelt out to him how bad things are. He’s going to die if he carries on like he’s doing. He loves his family and knows what it means for them. But he has long since lost the ability to fight the bottle and has already decided he’s not going to try.

The only weakness of the play is that there’s little room to keep people guessing. Once you’ve got into the swing of things and established who’s who and how Richard’s alcoholism affects them, there’s not really anywhere else for the story to go. I don’t see what you could do about that though; this is a based on a real story which wouldn’t be appropriate to embellish; the counter-argument is that story is defined by its grim inevitability. But if the purpose of this play was to bring a fresh perspective to the stereotyped of an alcoholic, it does that – and sadly, the message is of the destructive power of just giving up.

And one controversy

There was one unwelcome bit of news affecting the Vault Festival. This came before the bombshell of the festival losing its key venue, after which this was forgotten. However, I have expressed a lot of opinions about safeguarding and censorship, and as this sensitive issue covers both, I feel duty-bound to respond.

The uproar was over Caba-baba-rave, which is, in the words of the organisers, is “a cabaret show designed for parents, with sensory moments for babies, and is a fun and welcoming space for parents with young babies”. That’s not how other people saw it, and there was a moral panic on social media, seemingly from people who don’t go to the Vault festival, about a risque event being shown to children. It was only a minor moral panic, and Vault festival backed the act (quite rightly – they knew perfectly well what they were programming, changing your tune at the first whiff of protect would have been cowardly), but it still caused the organisers to pull the final performance.

The Twitter account that seems to have set this off is @libsoftiktok. Unfortunately, I spend too much time online and I know who they are: they are notorious shock baiters who jump at any chance they get for “Look at them stoopid ESS JAY DOUBYERS lol”. As such, it is tempting, and understandable, to dismiss the moral outcry out of hand – and that must be avoided at all costs. The one thing you must not do in response to complaints of inappropriate behaviour is to assume bad faith. You do not accuse people of fabricating outrage and you do not make assumptions about their motives, without very good evidence to back up your claims. And even if you can prove bad faith motives of @libsoftiktok, you have no way of knowing whether other people’s concerns are manufactured or genuine. We’ve had far too many cases recently where complaints were angrily dismissed out of hand long after it was clear they needed taking seriously. You should always take complaints in good faith. if you don’t agree, that’s fine – but you should still listen.

However, let’s start by getting one thing out of the way. It’s not clear exactly what @liboftiktok were objecting to, but a lot of the replies seem to have a problem with the cross-dressing. I really don’t see why that, in itself, is a problem. As many other people have pointed out, we don’t go into a moral panic because a man dressed up as a pantomime dame. Of course, this is not a free pass (and it doesn’t help that some people forget this). It would not be appropriate to perform The Rocky Horror Show in front of children, but that’s not because of the cross-dressing, it’s because of the highly sexualised performances. I subscribe to the long-standing principle that we judge sexualisation the same whether it’s straight or any brand of LGBT+, and if you have a problem with that, I’m not interested.

Now, on to the main point, burlesque-tone performances in front of babies, some people think it’s not appropriate. That’s understandable – but we need to look at context and intent. The key point here is that the target audience is the parents, not the babies. They argue they are providing entertainment for those who would otherwise not be able to watch cabaret entertainment with a baby in one hand. In that respect, they do have some precedents in their favour. There are plenty of cinemas that do parent-and-baby screening of films up to and including 12A ratings. Plenty of theatres allow parents to being in babies regardless of what’s on stage. (In fact, some theatres go way further and won’t allow any age restrictions at all.) The logic is that they’re babies, and they’re not going to register any of this. This has been going on for years and no-one’s had a problem with it. If you don’t agree with this practice, that’s fine, but I don’t see why this one needs singling out.

As for the content … meh. I saw the video @libsoftiktok were so outraged by, and, have to say, it all looked pretty PG rated. Yes, some of the performers were men in women’s clothes, but if that’s what floats your boat, that’s your business.

How about safeguarding? This is the more important issue. Let’s imagine for a moment a scare story come to life: a man who’s turned on by women’s clothes gyrating in a room containing babies. That might be a cause for concern – but there again, as we learned from Operation Yewtree, there were a hell of a of of dangerous straight men who’ve never worn women’s clothes once. You can’t base safeguarding on crude assumptions of different types of people. But, more to the point, what exactly are we worried about? No parent with a scrap on sense is going to let their baby of of their sights in a public place (and, if they do, let’s face it, we’ve got far bigger problems than a controversial piece of afternoon entertainment).

If it was with slightly older children, then yes, it would be right to expect more vigilance. Where bad things have happened to children, it’s been away from the parents, and it is just about possible a someone at a parent-and-child show could get away with that. I’m confident that Vault would give due vigilance; they say they platform events “with audience, artist, and staff safety always as a top priority,” and it would be insane for an organisation of their size to not have a robust child protection policy. Similar, if the children were older than babies, it would be reasonable to have more stringent debate on what’s age-appropriate. But that’s hypothetical. This is an event with babies.

Where there might be grounds for concern is the live element. A 12A film has no interaction between the performers and the audience, but there is an interactive element here. As I said, I don’t think anything in that video was a problem, but I’ve also seen some photos. One of them was a burlesque dancer, topless except for nipple tassels, holding a baby. I still don’t think that’s a big deal, but I can see why some parents might think that, and a few other photos, oversteps the line. If so, 100% respect your right not to take your kids to this. And nobody’s forcing you.

But on the whole, I think I have to come down strongly on the side of parents here. It is their responsibility to look after their kids, and by default I trust parents to make sensible judgements on what is and isn’t appropriate to bring their kids to. I do believe the concerns expressed behind the complaints were probably genuine. But on this occasion, I think it’s a massive over-reaction. And certainly not grounds for the apparent abuse directed at the organisers online.

It comes down to the thing I say time and time again: if you don’t approve, don’t go. But there’s nothing I’ve heard of about this event that can’t be solved by doing your job as a parent. For that reason, Caba-baba-rave has no case to answer.

What next?

So, back to the elephant in the room. The Vaults (the landlord of the space used by the Vault Festival) will no longer allow Vault Festival to use its space. For the last ten years, the two things have been considered virtually synonymous. Not any more.

The first thing I will say is that I think there’s something odd about this. There have been huge problems in the last few years with landlords evicting arts organisations for a bit of short-term gain, such as pubs wanting their function room back or selling off a theatre to convert it to flats – but that doesn’t entirely make sense here. What else could you use the arches underneath Waterloo Station for?

It has been reported that The Vaults wants to move towards more commercial operations. The one thing that might just about work is immersive theatre. It would a cruel twist of irony of Immersive Gatsby, Vault Festival’s all-time greatest success, inadvertently sowed the seeds of their downfall, but I’m sure the rise of immersive theatre would have happened with or without the Guild of Misrule. But the Vault Festival is a pretty solid money-earner over the eight weeks it runs – could you really count on earning more with an untested immersive production? One would have thought you’d have tried of immersive theatre in the unused April-December window before losing the business with the customer you already have. I’m sure there’s something more to this, and something has happened that we don’t know about.

But that’s an academic debate. Even if The Vaults has shot themselves in the foot, even if they were to welcome the Vault Festival back, it’s hard to imagine Vault Festival willingly returning. We have to look at the prospects of Vault Festival without the Vaults. Vault’s plans are outlined on their crowdfunder page. They are looking for another space, near Waterloo if possible, but one thing that’s all but certain is that if Vault 2024 does go ahead, it will be much smaller version, with the focus on trying out what might work for 2025 and beyond.

Let’s get the unpopular question out of the way: should the Vault Festival be saved. It is important to remember there is a lot of fringe-scale theatre going on all year in London – that existed before the Vault Festival, it will exist after. From my point of view, the Vault Festival is great as it’s the closest I can get to a festival fringe outside the summer months, but that’s not important in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know the ins and outs of London Fringe well enough to know how Vault fits into this, What I do know, however, is that the festival is very highly thought of within London – including London-based acts who’d had success without Vault’s help. That has to count for something.

The first factor for Vault’s survival is finding an alternative space. One thing that might count in Vault’s favour if the worst comes to the worst is the network of satellite venues around the main Vaults space. It is conceivable you could run a sort-of festival in Network Theatre, The Glitch, Vaulty Towers and the Void (a shipping container), although Network Theatre could support shows of any real scale. However, they probably don’t need to fall back on this worst-case scenario. They say in their latest update is that they have identified several options, and on that front the mood seems quite optimistic.

Where there is cause for concern is money. Now, I take the fundraising targets of Crowdfunders with caution; I’ve seen some crowdfunders set targets in excess of what they actually need (with the shortfall funded by reserves), and I’ve also seen crowdfunders ask for less. However, taking their £150,000 target at face value, it’s not looking good. We appear to be one fifth of the way there. The main part of the costs are the wages of the ten year-round staff employed by The Vault, and without this we’d be looking at redundancies – and by their own reckoning, if their staff shrinks, their chances of survival shrink further. Their latest update also says that “as it stands”, they won’t be doing a festival in 2024, possibly ever.

Where there may be hope is with large-scale funding. In the north-east, the North of Tyne Combined Authority donated 25K to a new arts venue; if this was scaled up for the Mayor or London budget, that could easily stretch to the full 150K (and Vault has a very strong case as the most pressing cultural issue currently facing London). Or there may be other prospective donors with deep pockets. In this respect, the money already raised might be pivotal. Most large-scale funders expect you to have raised some of the money yourself; it demonstrates people are serious about a venture. And, reading between the lines, it seems that it’s these prospective big donors where the most is at stake.

The third and final factor is Vault as a brand. Do not underestimate this. In 2021, the Vault Festival brand persisted in a collaboration with Pleasance called “Fringe Futures”, which was quite influential over what made it to Edinburgh Fringe. And in 2022 with the last-minute cancellation, the hastily-constructed “Vault Transfer” brand was a big player in London. I cannot see Vault Festival surviving as a brand without a venue forever, but we saw what they could do in 2021 and 2022, and other intiatives like that might buy some time to sort things out.

Where the might – repeat, MIGHT – be cause for optimism is that Vault Festival has recruited for three positions in the last month. It is, for various reasons, a bad idea to recruit staff if you’re expecting to be making redundancies shortly, so maybe Vault Festival knows something that I don’t which gives them a bit of security. That’s only vague speculation though, so don’t hold me to this.

IMG_8921My feeling is that Vault Festival can stay, but it may have to be willing to scale back before it grows again. The original festival in 2012 ran for three weeks and had 24 event, before growing to the size it is today. If it can grow from that once, it can do it again. But it would mean having to go through a period of management by determined volunteers. If the Vault Festival is willing to contemplate this worst-case scenario, the price of survival might be high, but it will survive. If, however, they dig their heels in and decide they want to carry on at their current size or not at all, I don’t know which way it will go.

In the meantime, what’s happened to the Vault Festival should serve as a wake-up call to everybody. As I have been saying for years now, if your operation is dependent on a business lease, you must be aware that your landlord can turn on you without warning. Always have a plan on standby for the nightmare scenario where the landlord wants you out. But, more widely, the wider arts world need to realise what a menace this has become to all of us. Something needs to be done – exactly what that is needs a discussion. But we need this discussion soon. Make no mistake: if the Vault Festival isn’t safe, nobody’s safe.

And one London play outside Vault …

And finally, not everything in London is Vault Festival. I take the opportunity to see other things if I have a reason to. Sometimes I catch up on things I couldn’t see elsewhere, sometimes I get reviews requests for London theatre other than Vault, but this time it was an encore. And I don’t normally write extra about plays I’ve already seen. However … I don’t know whether it’s that the performance has got better, I know the better, or maybe I was just extra-picky the first time round (as Brighton Fringe 2022’s standard was exceptional). But it’s time to award this:

Yes, on second viewing, Vermin has edged my rating up into my equivalent of a five star rating. You can read about it on my original Brighton Fringe review. What I only appreciated this time round, however, is just how good Benny Ainsworth’s writing it, in particular the characterisation. On the face of it, neither Billy nor Rachel are sympathetic characters. A couple who get together by gawping over a suicide on the railway is never going to get into to good books of the audience. Rachel earns a respite when she becomes a rat-whisperer, but Billy cements his reputation more and more as a psychopath.

copy-of-dsc01012-scaled-1However, when you get to know Billy’s character better, even he can be read sympathetically. It becomes clear the second time round that his biggest problem is that he can’t help himself. He knows he stands to lose the one person who loves him and means something to him, but his addiction to killing things is too strong. And the one thing that endures is his love for Rachel, even after he’s done enough to end things. And that, ironically, turns out to be his downfall.

So it’s been a decent Vault Festival with an uncertain future. I still hope there can be some sort of future. But remember, there’s more to London Theatre than the Vaults, more ways of rising through the ranks than a slot in Vault’s programme, and Triptych is an example of how it can be done.


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