Tag Archives: The Vaults

“Miss Nightingale” at The Vaults

Previous incarnations of Matthew Bugg’s musical, set in wartime London, have already received acclaim and this hard-working show deserves its extended run in the capital. With a spirit of utility, the tried and tested device of a cabaret interspersed with behind-the-scenes action is employed with good songs and an affecting story.

There’s a slightly confusing mix of musical styles, but Bugg’s compositions are impressive. Pastiche music-hall numbers, catapulting the show’s titular star to fame, have a nice line in naughty. That one of them is called ‘The Sausage Song’ probably reveals enough. Can you have too many soldiers standing to attention jokes? Probably, but I smirked from ear to ear anyway.

The comedy numbers are aided by a sterling performance by the multi-talented Tamar Broadbent. She gets a lot out of the innuendo with some drag king touches thrown in. The role is stock “formidable” Northerner, and yet Broadbent makes this Miss a hit – think Sally Bowles from Sheffield. It’s easily worth sitting through an air raid just to watch her.

Other music is more adventurous, with gambles that don’t always pay off. There’s a “bit of Berlin” from song-writing émigré George and numbers that reflect the drama of his relationship with the impresario promoting Miss Nightingale, Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe. The men’s love story get equal billing with our on-stage star (connections are intimate in several ways) – for Bugg provides plenty of story to accompany the songs.

Nicholas Coutu-Langmead & Conor O'Kane
Nicholas Coutu-Langmead & Conor O’Kane

Emotional impact comes from the romance – a story of gay cruising in the blackout and blackmail threats that are heavy on history. Conor O’Kane has a tough job as George, since the role has hysterical touches and isn’t free of stereotyping. Nicholas Coutu-Langmead is appropriately “dashing” as posh war hero Frank, a much fuller character who struggles with his sexuality (not one but two good numbers here) and is especially impressive when angry. Both men sound good, and a bold duet – ‘Waiting’ – is a third highlight.

The plot has holes, several around the villain of the piece, ably performed by Niall Kerrigan who needs a solo number added ( and, given Buggs’ talents I’d guess one exists and has been cut). Another issue is that while the songs are great the score doesn’t coalesce into something bigger. The tension between its central character and gay love story isn’t squared satisfactorily. But that’s also the charm of the piece – the messy ménage-a-trois here is satisfyingly complex and shouts its modern sensibility proudly.

Until 20 May 2017


Photos by Robert Workman

“A Haunting” at the Vault Festival

There’s a great starting point for Nathan Lucky Wood’s play. A young boy’s online discussion with an older man quickly includes sexual content and turns out to be even creepier than we imagine. With brilliant twists too good to spoil, Wood explores current concerns about the internet in an original and unsettling way. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, as well as providing a great role for Roly Botha as a teenager running a gamut of emotions: he’s smart enough to see he is being blackmailed, but not entirely unwilling to meet his “friend” in the woods.

The scenes with Botha onstage alone are gripping, so it is a shame the play falls off so quickly. The actions of the boy’s mother (Izabella Urbanowicz), who we’ve already seen in a couple of short and unconvincing scenes, beggar belief. The meeting with our online villain has potential, and director Jennifer Davis adds some nice touches, while Jake Curran works well in the role. But encounters between all three characters strain credulity further and a disappointing final scene only emphasises how much the steam has run out. After such a promising start, it’s disappointing, as Wood can clearly do so much more.

Until 19 February 2017


“This Must Be The Place” at the Vault Festival

I’ve waited a while to see another play by Brad Birch, and this piece, co-written with Kenneth Emson and presented by Poleroid Theatre, shows a writing team with strong ears, observant eyes and independent minds. Firmly rooted in the experience of young lives today, this story of family and friendship is full of recognisable stuff, even if most of us would fail to articulate it with such style.

Two couples, linked by the theme of home, weave a poetic dialogue full of wit. There are laughs, but a sense of anxiety is always present. Technology and the “shared, liked, commented on” of social media becomes a pressuring mantra. The everyman here, Adam, debates having a child with his girlfriend and tackles the legacy of an estranged father. Meanwhile, two friends, endearingly hapless desperadoes, are on the move to London. All four roles are well acted. James Cooney and Molly Roberts play struggling lovers: distant from one another in more ways than one, yet still emotionally attached. Feliks Mathur and Hamish Rush play mates with a fantastic chemistry – surely aided by both being recent graduates from the same college – and top-notch banter.

This Must Be The Place isn’t making revelatory statements. If you’re not on Facebook, after a feeling of smug self-righteousness, the relief you feel will only confirm a lot that’s expressed here. Barbs against hipsters, well, who is going to argue with that? Modern angst isn’t that original a topic and the sources Birch and Emson point towards are no surprise. But it’s all presented very well indeed, using the language of tech and a dissonance with “actual life” brilliantly. Writing this lyrical easily carries the show.

Until 12 February 2017


Photo by Mathew Foster

“Worlds” at the Vault Festival

A set of strangers together in an isolated guest house might normally be associated with a murder mystery story, and there are puzzles in Martin Murphy’s new play, which he also directs. But his series of intimate glimpses into multiple lives is gentler than even a Miss Marple. Storytelling seem to be the purpose here – fair enough – but, while scenes are set up and acted well, they don’t develop far.

The odd building, converted into a hotel, is said to have had “many guises”. There’s a mish-mash of visitors, including a middle-aged couple having an affair and two youngsters starting a family, and a few too many metaphors to allow a comfortable stay. Themes of union and dissolution almost manage to link the stories but they’re a bit too open. And there’s a Brexit analogy that strikes a very odd note. The vignettes each have potential, but presenting only tasters is quite unsatisfying. It’s a tribute to the several characters that you want to see more and, as a way of showing Murphy’s versatility, the play succeeds.

Two actors, taking on all the roles, with just minimal costume changes, are impressive. Andrew Macklin’s popstar character is a hit and he has a good go at playing a young boy with cancer. Naomi Sheldon’s swaps include an intriguing dominatrix and a nice delineation of two older characters: a grandmother and the adorable landlady Briony. It’s these “many guises” that really drive the play.

Until 29 January 2017



“dreamplay” at The Vaults

August Strindberg’s 1901 play is widely regarded as being impossible to stage. Of course, that’s never stopped people from trying. The latest effort comes from BAZ Productions, headed by director Sarah Bedi. Crammed with memorable snippets, this ambitious adaptation is free enough to pin down themes precisely. And if it’s deep and meaningful questions you like, these are packed in with forceful proficiency.

From the grunts and screams that open the show – with a character from heaven visiting Earth to observe mankind’s suffering – it’s obvious that audience members need an open mind. A committed cast (Colin Hurley, Michelle Luther, Jade Ogugua and Jack Wilkinson) are sure to win respect. Each of the disconnected scenes is entered at full pitch, slipping speedily into the surreal. It must be exhausting to perform. It’s pretty tough to watch.

There are fine touches here, including great work from Luther, whose movement is controlled by the playing of a cello, and a gorgeous scene of couples proposing marriage that really nails the fluidity of dreams. And a visit to a classroom (get ready to sing along) is the best of the production’s comic touches, sliding effectively into a claustrophobic nightmare. Unfortunately, each scene is just a little too long. Although dreams do, after all, recur, there’s a great deal of repetition. And while it makes sense to break down that fourth wall, the technique is overplayed.

It is sound that holds the show together. The music of super talented cellist Laura Moody, along with a variety of noises made by the cast (appropriate to situations, from the mundane to the supernatural), create an aural landscape that uses the venue perfectly. While expertise in the use of sound is the show’s triumph, navigating the promenade audience through the same space is its biggest failing. Even with an intimate 70-strong audience, too much time is taken moving between scenes, breaking the spell and waking you from the dream. This may be very practical criticism for a play that is so boldly abstract, but the impact is significant.

Until 1 October 2016


Photo by Cesare De Giglio

“The Collector” at The Vaults

It’s unfortunate for Mark Healy, the adapter of John Fowles’ gripping novel, that this reviewer, on top of his homework, is so fresh from reading the book. The story, of a lottery winner who kidnaps an art student he is long obsessed with, is still great and the acting here is strong, but while all the mechanics are present and correct the magic is missing.

A tough job for sure, the novel consists of long diaries, from both parties, showing different sides of the same event. Healy mashes the two together so the play is more conventional. It’s clear what’s going on and it’s a tense affair but a lack of ambition makes the characters flatter and the show is slowed by some fussy touches from director Joe Hufton and an incongruously cluttered set.

The plot is still strong enough to grip and leading man Daniel Portman has a star role to boast about. Not exactly well cast (that’s a compliment) he embodies the kidnapper Frederick’s peculiarities perfectly. There are moments of sexual repression here but that’s not Fowles’ focus and Portman constructs a boundary around these, showing us the “gentle force” he uses, which is much more frightening. We’re kept guessing about the depths of his insanity. Portman’s nuanced depiction drives the show.

His victim, played by Lily Loveless, suffers more from the inevitable editing but still presents a well-rounded character and is great in more emotional scenes. Awkward moments aren’t of Loveless’ making. Abandoning the original early 60s setting, there’s an iPhone and Fowles’ musical references are ignored, an obsession with class becomes jarring: inconsistent, incoherent and frankly odd. It’s as if Frederick has kidnapped a hipster and never had access to the Internet – we know he’s mad but both character’s here are adrift in time. The clash of cultures that should provide most of the motivation is lost. If Healy wanted to update, fair enough, but a more radical approach would have been necessary.

Until 28 August 2016


Photo by Scott Rylander


“Protect and Survive” at the Vault Festival

Michael Ross’ comedy drama takes us back to the 1980s and is a brilliant satire about that dire decade. The observations are spot on (there’s even a reference to Clannad) making this short play about three teenagers exploring a nuclear bunker full of laughs. Impressively, as local country boy Jack provides a dangerous adventure for London siblings Kirsty and Charlie, the jokes turn pitch black in the blink of an eye.

Our couple from the capital are blissfully recognisable. With a knowing eye on their “cosmopolitan identity politics”, Ross makes his subject more than just nostalgia. Kirsty has a realistically thin sophistication that Carla Rose renders superbly. Charlie is fantastically funny, his every line worth quoting – bourgeois is “French for Daily Mail reader” – and delivered gleefully by Josh Husselbee.

Protect and Survive VAULT image 2

The central role is Jack, performed with care by Karl Mercer, who injects an intriguing childlike quality into his character. Twisted fantasies become all the more shocking and have a comic edge – some of the situations really shouldn’t this funny, and it’s a gift to make people laugh and then feel slightly ashamed for doing so.

There’s an interesting twist too – a parallel drawn between the danger and paranoia of the Cold War and that surrounding the AIDS crisis – an idea that deserves further exploration. Andrew Pritchard’s direction makes great use of the space (including a lovely scene with torches), which, although uncomfortable and smelly, is perfect for the underground locale of the play. But it’s Ross’s humour that makes the play really exciting. Intelligent and genuinely subversive, this comedy has an energy that indicates how much the writer has to say.

Until 6 March 2016


Photos by Andrew Pritchard

“Little Write Lies” at the Vault Festival

With its nightclub vibe and efforts at subterranean cool, the Vault is not the most pleasant place to be on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon. But the aims behind the eponymous festival, located underneath Waterloo Station, are commendable, with a youthful feel and eclectic programme offering something for everyone.

Putting aside the comedy and music on offer, I chose three short plays, packaged as Little Write Lies, written in response to a festival highlight, Yve Blake’s Lie Collector. The pieces, all on the theme of deception, are a great opportunity to enjoy new writing and acting talent.

Doug Dunn’s Brixton Sunrise goes straight to the point, imagining a chance encounter in a McDonald’s, to show the lies ambitious Londoners tell themselves and others. The other two works suffer slightly from their aspirations – setting up more than can be delivered in such a short time. Tom Wright’s I, We, Me is the story of an online hook-up, full of disturbing twists, that leaves you wanting more. Victoria Gimby’s, Forget-Me-Not, tackling the subject of mental health, has a creepy edge that makes it cry out for elaboration.

All the acting is of a high standard. Catherine Dunne gives a nuanced performance as a world-weary young woman, developing her character with perfect pace alongside Shane Noone as an appealing road worker with hidden aspirations. Leonie Marzecki and Amy Murray give careful turns as potential lovers in Wright’s play, dealing skilfully with their multiple online personas. Gimby’s work is a good vehicle for the talents of Alex Khanyaghma and Sallyanne Badger, while Aaron Gordon adds a haunting presence.

Another trilogy is to be presented this Sunday, 1 March.


Photo by Jack Abraham

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” at the Vault Festival

The latest incarnation of arty happenings underneath Waterloo station has started this week. The Vault Festival offers an inspiring array of theatre, comedy and club nights headed by productions of Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The latter opened last night, with drug-addled gonzo journalism from the casino capital, adapted and directed reverentially by Lou Stein and sure to please the book’s many fans.

The production has plenty of invention; the cars driven and hotel beds debauched on are cleverly evoked and a sure highlight is the use made of Ralph Steadman’s magnificent artwork. It’s the real star here. The show includes never before seen works and embellishes Steadman’s vision with projection and animation. His drawings are an elaboration of the drug-induced mania Thompson’s alias Raoul Duke and his factotum Dr.Gonzo experience while reporting on the Mint 400 drag race and the District Attorney’s Narcotics Conference.

Strongly caricatured, pretentious commentators and aspiring prophets, the leading roles are thankless tasks for actors Ed Hughes and Rob Crouch. Hughes’ Duke is cleverly stilted, but the edginess that’s the result of all those drugs becomes, predictably, tiresome and while Crouch’s Gonzo is performed with great physicality the role itself is two dimensional. Various innocents, casualties to encountering Duke and Gonzo, are performed by an ensemble who work hard to be surreal and gurn plenty, but the outcome is too tame.

Thankfully, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, is held together by John Chancer, who plays the role of narrator. Taking on Thompson’s authorial voice, Chancer is commanding and has grasped both the despair that gives the work some depth and the dead-pan quality of Thompson’s humour. Unfortunately, when he isn’t speaking there isn’t enough to take your mind off the make shift venue’s dreadfully uncomfortable seating or terrible sightlines.

The whole production should be more of an assault on the senses than it is and hopefully this can still be changed. It might be an idea to listen to Dr. Gonzo’s demand for “Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass!”. There are moments in the second half when the projections become more immersive and it makes a big difference. But by then the mood is more thoughtful and we’re brought down before we’ve reached a high.

Until 8 March 2014


Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 31 January 2014 for The London Magazine