A new arts festival came to London in February 2012. VAULT, a ground-breaking exploration of the arts, featured a variety of theatre, film and music in the Old Vic Tunnels over a three-week period. The festival showcased a diverse and unique series of productions and was highly praised for its ‘panoply of alternative arts delights’ (The Guardian Guide). Now, in 2014, it returns to the labyrinth of tunnels beneath Waterloo for a second outing, with this year’s event offering double the delight with six weeks of live entertainment between 28th January and 8th March 2014.
The festival is presented by Heritage Arts, an organisation which aims to use art to excite the public’s imagination, creating their own work as well as offering opportunities to emerging artists in their cultural events. Creative Producer Tim Wilson founded the HAC in 2007 which he runs alongside fellow member Mat Burt. After having previously worked with companies like Silent Opera and Kindle Theatre at their ‘Curtain Call’ event at The Roundhouse last year, he and Burt started to think about a way in which they could present unknown work to a widespread audience. Wilson recognised that “when you’re an emerging talent, it can be hard to find your way”, so they conceived and organised the VAULT arts festival.
Unlike other festivals, VAULT brings together a range of different art forms, exposing its audience to everything from theatre, film and live music to puppetry and light installations. A huge number of companies and artists took part in the fledgling festival two years ago, with around 2/3 of them being people the HAC had previously supported and nurtured, and the rest coming on board through recommendations and the not-for-profit organisation IdeasTap, who were their primary partners in VAULT. IdeasTap are a creative network which aims to help young, emerging talent through cash funding and opportunities to showcase their work.
Featured amongst the 2012 line-up were such acts as Silent Opera, which mixes silent disco with live opera and introduced a re-worked recording of ‘La Boheme’ with a 70-piece orchestra. The art of puppet-theatre was also displayed to great effect with The Great Puppet Horn, a satirical comedy providing a cultural critique on the current events of the world through the use of shadow puppetry, and Ella Hickson’s Punt gave audiences a night of pun-filled fun. Another popular draw at the 2012 festival was the Flicker Club, which supports the cinematic branch of The Make A Difference Trust (FilmMAD). The boutique cinema club redefines the film-going experience by screening movies adapted from short stories and novels, as well as inviting celebrity guests to live-read the source material before-hand. For VAULT, the Flicker Club teamed up with Hammer, Britain’s legendary House of Horror, to show a selection of their films. The featured mix of the new and the old included Dracula, The Reptile, Frankenstein Created Woman, Let Me In and The Woman in Black, and audiences were also treated to readings from Barry Forshaw, Kim Newman, Donald Rumbelow, Jonathan Rigby, Damon Wise, Stephen Tompkinson, Helen Dunmore, Marcus Hearn, Dexter Fletcher, Fenella Fielding, Madeline Smith, Janina Faye, Mark Gatiss and the Woman in Black herself, Liz White.
So what’s in store for VAULT Festival 2014? There is an eclectic mix of theatrical entertainment to sample over the course of the six-week run, as well as the VAULT Lates series, which offers 18 nights of one-off live music parties and extravaganzas. This is kicked off on Thursday 30th January with a night of drinks, dancing and revelry for persons 18+ only in the VAULT Festival Opening Hullabaloo. There will also be a special Saturday night of ‘silent disco and hidden happenings’ with Silent Night In The Vaults, a ‘show-stopping night of glamorous entertainment’ showcasing some of the finest international burlesque stars with The House Of Burlesque, and a ‘extravaganza of live theatre, music, cabaret, comedy, poetry and visual art wrapped up in a big fat party’ to celebrate The nabokov Arts Club’s 5th birthday, along with many more.
The line-up of performances will change with each week of the festival, but in addition to the varied programme of events, two headline shows will play throughout the entire six week run: stage adaptions of 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 1978 novel The Cement Garden.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the work of author Hunter S. Thompson, and the one which he is most famous for. Set in the 1970’s, the story follows journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo as they travel to Las Vegas to report on a motorcycle race. However, they descend into a haze of hallucinogenic drugs as they ruminate on how the country became ‘broken’ in their search for the American Dream. A film version starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro as Duke and Gonzo respectively was released in 1998 and has since become a cult classic. Now one of the ‘wildest, most vibrant and utterly essential books of our time’ has been adapted for the stage especially for VAULT by Lou Stein, who also directs the production. Audiences are encouraged to come in costume, and for an added treat, will be able to enjoy an exhibit of never-seen-before prints by Ralph Steadman, the original illustrator on Thompson’s novel.
The Cement Garden was written by Jerusalem Prize-winner Ian McEwan, the author behind the 2001 novel Atonement, which was subsequently turned into highly successful film starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. A film version of The Cement Garden, McEwan’s first novel, was also released in 1993. Before FallOut Theatre in Cambridge began working on a stage adaption in 2008. The developed work is now to be premiered at VAULT in a production created by David Aula and Jimmy Osborne. It centres on the isolated existence that four young children make for themselves following the deaths of both their parents; a fact they hide from the outside world. George MacKay and Julie Bentall star as the teenage Jack (the book’s narrator) and older sister Julie respectively.
There are a wide selection of other productions and alternative acts to be seen alongside the two headline shows. Superbolt Theatre, Angry Bairds and Such Small Portions all have several shows being performed as part of the festival, with the latter presenting a great comedy offering with the likes of musical comedians Mae Martin and Jay Forman, and the second show from solo artist Luisa Omielan. There are a huge number of uber-talented people taking part in every aspect of live performance though. Michelle Roche is another member of the festival’s line-up giving a solo performance with her debut solo show, I Grew Up In An Old People’s Home, which takes the audience on a ‘beautifully gentle, funny, yet extraordinary journey’ into the world of Dementia through the eyes of a ten-year old. The company Static Move also provide their innovative new work, The Tryals of Anne Bonny, to the stage, in a show which combines narrative and aerial theatre to tell the real-life story of an 18th century woman confined on charges of piracy. Other shows also featured as part of VAULT include The Papier Heart by Joshua McTaggart and The Company, which brings together live video projections and ‘an awful lot of paper’ in this interactive theatre experience, alongside Jessica Burgess’ adult-themed comedy drama about the hyper-sexualised culture of today, F**king Outside The Box. One highlight of the six-week event is the award-winning improvised comedy performance Battleacts! Having already received rave reviews all around the UK, the show pitches two teams of improvisers against one another in a similar format to Who’s Line Is It Anyway? which also combines a mix of seemingly impossible verbal and physical challenges. Also worth a mention is the show from contemporary performance company IJAD, who bring the story of the Universe to VAULT with In-Finite Space: Part II, which encourages audience interaction through the use of social network Twitter.
These are just a few of the shows in store at the 2014 VAULT Festival. There are dozens more which all offer something unique and truly provide something for every taste. Ahead of the festival’s debut in 2012, director Wilson was clear that he considered VAULT to be something different to other regional festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre and Latitude in regards to the wide range of different art forms in their programme. Now, as too then, he and festival co-director Mat Burt refer to their creation as a ‘leap of faith’, but also actively encouraged people from all walks of life to explore what’s on offer and expose themselves to all kinds of theatre-based entertainment, going on to say that, ‘the headline shows at VAULT are incredibly exciting, but what’s really astonishing here is the sheer breadth of the programme – London’s got nothing else like this”.
Supported by Adnams, White Light, Stage Sound Services and Wild Turkey, VAULT Festival is hoping to repeat its initial success with its second incarnation in 2014. Theatre is all about new experiences, and VAULT Festival certainly promises to offer just that; for any theatre-goer, the opportunity to witness such an eclectic mix of theatre-based art forms is one to be grabbed with both hands. This exciting festival of theatrical treats is a very welcome addition to the London theatre scene and is a wonderful way to usher in this brand new year.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 21st January 2014