VAULT Festival 2019 Reviews

VAULT Festival 2019 Reviews

Hold on tight we’re heading underground for a pick ‘n’ mix of fringe theatre, comedy and interactive mayhem. Here’s what we think…

★★★★★ Scream Phone

An unrestrained joyride of camp nostalgia and madcap murder!

Scream Phone takes us right back to the late 80s – it’s sleepover time for a Heathers-like clique of teenage girls, gearing up for a night of pillow fights, singing into hair brushes, and gossiping about their crushes.

Except that pesky pink phone in the corner keeps ringing, to announce that a boy at school has a crush on one of them – but which boy, and which girl. And for that matter, which girl’s big secret is going to leak first?

Scream Phone is a relentlessly fun melange of re-worked pop songs, teenage angst, quick-fire quips and a creeping tide of imminent campy horror! Natasha Granger, Alexandra Lewis & Kerrie Thomason have an absolute whale of a time as Melody, Stacey and Janice, hamming it up between top-notch vocal performances, and even making the element of audience participation feel both vital yet casual and inclusive.

Only a cold-hearted fun-phobe could fail to be won over by this horror-pastiche romp – and only a liar would say it doesn’t leave them yearning for those innocent days of the Dream Phone! SW

★★★★Counting Sheep

A riot of colour and passion reveals the abominable story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

A tale of two shows for us – we entered the long cavernous space and had 30 minutes of feeling pretty uncomfortable as we were told to dance and take part in some comedy gig-style banter that had us yearning for solitude!

However, after deciding to flee the ‘protester’ zone and taking seats in the bleachers, the show really came to life – and from the tiered seats, you could properly see the epic projections and foot-stomping music forging a riotous rhythm.

Essentially a love story between a cocky Canadian tourist and a Ukranian musician, the personal most certainly becomes political. The rave-like riot scenes are overwhelmingly powerful, though transitions feel slow, with seemingly endless chaotic moving of wooden pallets and sandbags.

The show would work better (for us) with a traverse staging with 100s of extras/participants, but the audience participation just comes across as a little forced and could be more natural (and the audience should feel like they want to take part). Other interactive shows like Fuerzabruta manage to pull this off far more effectively, where sound and light take over your body and brain.

That said the fiddle-fantastic live music by Balaklava Blues is a foot-stomping fountain of Balkan beats and touching ballads.

Overall, a spectacular re-enactment of forgotten recent history which should be a must see for anyone who has a soul and longs for justice (and who doesn’t mind a bit of forced participation). RD

★★★ The Milkman Cometh

A bizarre dark comic tale in need of pasteurising

The show promised a surreal adventure and doesn’t disappoint fans of a bonkers British folk tale. The humour is schoolboy in tone with milking teets, deflowering virgins, screaming ninnies and hard rock as recurring themes.

The main thrust of the story comes from the idea that in a post-cowpocalyptic British village, virgins are sacrificed to the milk man in return for a supply of lactic refreshment. It’s all pretty gross-out in a sniggery way, with silly rhymes and sick jokes – and sadly the material doesn’t give much heft to the female roles, mainly just damsels in distress.

There were funny moments, sure, and the small cast gave a lot in a small and cramped Vault space. The music was the real star though, with bearded hard men providing ear-drum splitting riffs and hard rock momentum that was sorely needed.

We hope the show goes on to an improved, slightly slimmed down version, with more thrash metal than we can handle and some stronger roles for the women. We’d gladly reappraise with a milkshake. RD

★★★Jericho

A big undertaking, full of musing

The show’s set is minimalist but effective and some of the use of AV works really well – particularly the talking lips projections, which are a great way to represent the unseen characters in the journalist character’s life. The projected text is sometimes hard to read and the mic’d voices are sometimes hard to hear – although these may be problems created by the slightly tricky environment at the Vaults.

Maeve O’Mahoney holds the show’s energy well. However, whilst he adds some moments of humour, the reasoning for including a second figure on stage is unclear, and his presence and part in the show minimally addressed. We wonder if he is perhaps only there to provide a body for O’Mahoney to wrestle with.

A lot of content being addressed in a mere hour result in a show that doesn’t quite home in on its themes enough. The biggest idea is around fake news and the overwhelming nature of the world as told by the internet. This could have been a show in and of itself but Jericho just scratches at the surface, weaving in feminism, abortion, career progression, wrestling and Roland Barthes. Whilst the majority of the content speaks to the idea of finding the truth, this show doesn’t pull everything together quite as successfully as a Malaprop show usually does. Perhaps the point is to ‘truthfully’ reflect the way the majority of the western world live their lives within the context of modern day media – lives of snapshots and headlines threaded through brains that have forgotten what it is to really concentrate. But in the theatrical world we enter into, we yearn for a narrative and a weaving together of those snapshots, not a mere flicker of them. The show seems mostly a finger pointing and little in the way of reflection or realisation. Some might love this, but we are left wanting more. Or perhaps less. Perhaps less is more… LE

★★★Jade City

An unrelenting hour of a show

The two-hander sees Barry Calvert and Brendan Quinn give energetic and committed performances as two friends in East Belfast, bonded since childhood. The performance space, whilst technically challenging, works quite well with the language and the style of the piece – its rawness complimentary and the simple set also serving well. The lighting is a little challenging, leaving much of the audience very visible and evident, but this does not detract too much from the action.

What feels hard about this show is the density of the language and singular sense of rhythm, staging and direction. There are very few moments to pause and reflect, or to catch a breath. The two performers enter the space from the audience, one from each side, but then spend almost the entire hour after this within a defined square of performance space with the audience on all sides. There is little variation in mood or tone, which makes it hard at points to stay with the dialogue, which is on whole well-written. There are some confusing moments and the piece in general relies on its ending to convey its power, which can leave us a little perplexed during the journey. The show does however manage to still pack quite a punch with the burst of twists and turns that form its culmination. LE

★★½ Infinity

Visuals overshadow this infinity

Without meaning to detract from Nessa Matthews’ personal and autobiographical journey into her unknown; it is Naomi Faughnan’s set and Bill Woodland’s lighting design that are the stars of this show. The visual elements of the piece, paired with some great timing and movement from Matthews, are gorgeous. The sound design is also meticulous and the overall design style is slick and impressive.

The show suffers somewhat however, from a case of stye over substance – Matthews’ journey into space lasting far too long and making the message feel somewhat painstaking and over-thought. The subject is clearly deeply personal and the journey of making the show has been difficult for Matthews – she tells us as much. But it feels a little like the difficulty of the subject has led to a difficulty in the show. On the one hand it feels poignant and loaded, on the other it feels guarded and held back – the emotion hiding behind by clever lighting and voice recordings, and then splashing out in stilted splurges at the end. The polarisation that came through in the show, although somewhat understandable, took away from a subject with seeds of potential. LE

Reviews are by Laura Edmans (LE) and Rupert Dannreuther (RD). Stuart Wilson (SW) held the drinks.

Rupert Dannreuther

About 

I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.