Double Infemnity, Vault Festival

It was a Wednesday, around six in the evening. At the Vaults under Waterloo Station I parked next to a girl, wondered where she stowed her pistol, and watched Catherine O’Shea, Jennifer Richards and Naomi Westerman’s one-woman show; a throwback and pass forward – a Marlowe with mams. Katrina Foster was the curves with the cuffs. She dished out her shtick like a boxer paid to drop in the third. In a world like this, all sex and patter, the plot was a loose bag of tropes. Better to follow the lady on the stage and soak up the attitude, enough to thicken pubic hair.

But you’ll have heard Double Infemnity is more than a pun, it’s a feminist take on a male genre. I grabbed a packet of smokes and asked myself, what did that mean? Maybe the kind of show where the men get objectified and their absence drives the story. Maybe the kind where the heroine talks tough on menstruation and regards the male intellect like a bowl of spoiling oranges. And maybe that’s a problem. In simple terms, when someone’s up, someone’s gotta be down. A private dick better stay flaccid. And if it can’t, there better be a gal wrapping one in sandpaper.

Effie-Lou, the cop with the cleft, was a pretty smart cookie and by the end of the play just about everyone and everything had taken a bite. She survived unmolested and unconvinced by the men in her life. It’s a power fantasy the women of 2018, wanting a stake in Chandler’s sweet style, can get behind. But style is all it is. Remember that and you’ll be swell.

I finish my cigarette. A man’s advice, would O’Shea, Richards and Westerman want it? Maybe not but it was, finally, all I had. Better manage the transitions between scenes – walking off and on stage slams on the brakes. Try lighting. Get someone to write a score; a little light jazz. And sweetheart, drop the clips of Brad Pitt. In a closed world it sticks out like a giraffe in a ’46 Ford. You want a hunk? Get a sketch artist. Hey, don’t look at me like that toots. I’m just a Joe doing a job, and I’m not even getting expenses.

Silk Road, The Vault Festival

five-stars

I really wasn’t expecting much from this play. The fact the press release promoted it as “bitcoin-funded” had me worried it was going to be a buzzword-heavy, all-too-trendy play, heavy on zeitgeist and light on almost anything else. I could not have been more wrong.

This play is a one-hour, one-man tour-de-force.

The man is Bruce (Josh Barrow), an unemployed working class Geordie living with his Nan. He falls in love with a university-bound school friend who introduces him to the world of posh parties with copious cocaine. When she leaves him, he seeks out solace in the product of a local dealer, then finds he has all the makings of the next big kingpin: a laptop and a nan selling tea cosies on eBay.

The story is as gripping as the staging is sparse. Director Dominic Shaw doesn’t have a lot to work with but it really does work. The timeline jumps around, and it is through clever lighting and a physical tic from Barrow that we know we are moving from scene to scene. All depicted with just a wooden chair, a pile of books, a toaster and the electric acting of Josh Barrow. He is definitely my one to watch of 2018.

The play was sourced with suggestions from the read Silk Road forums (Silk Road is a genuine place for the trading of illicit drugs on the dark web). Writer Alex Oates has woven these into a simple, humorous, dark, compelling and eminently watchable drama.

Whatever else it was I was expecting, I was not expecting to be charmed. But I – like Bruce – was struck by a smooth criminal.

Silk Road was on at The Vaults Festival between 24-28 January https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/silk-road/ and Shrapnel Theatre’s upcoming projects and information can be found here https://www.shrapneltheatre.com/ 

 

Great Again-The Musical, Vault Festival

A musical about what drove voters to Trump from their point of view sounds utterly horrifying for some of us.

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Old Sole’s Great Again is a sympathetic look at a controversial subject. Trump supporters are racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim etc, right?

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This production looks at those yearning for an America for Americans and shows us this from the groups of voters who were assumed not to be supporting Trump

Kelsey (Ellie Jackson) and Josh (Jacob Bradford) are college dropouts from Ohio silenced by the Liberal majority surrounding them. Why should they be politically correct? Kelsey is female, Josh is gay and later on, they are joined by John (Andy Umerah) a black College graduate. It is never really explained what drew them to conservatism-Kelsey and Josh come from liberal and emotionally distant families but we never learn much more. All seem to yearn for an America that never existed or at least never existed in their lifetime.

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There is strong support from Alexander McMorran, Rosie Ward and Natasha Zacher as a variety of characters. The strongest scene is where the three young supporters are attacked  by pro-Hilary protestors; where each of them are forced to consider not only why they want Trump; is it because he tells it like it is, is it because he is different like them or is it simply because they don’t want a woman as their president, which leads Kelsey to question what she really wants.

The Book and Lyrics from Isla Van Tricht are strong and wonderfully performed; much of the emotional output comes from the songs rather than the storyline. Len (McMorran)’s song about being a blue collar worker, hoping Trump can keep his promises is a realistic portrayal of a man, and others like him, who feel let down and tired of being let down is able to make the audience understand the conflict of voting for Trump; they trust him more than Hilary but not much more. The issue I have is that musically a lot of Guy Woolf’s songs sound too similar and lacking in a huge, energetic number to win the audience over.

The other thing is that do we need more “WHAT ABOUT THE TRUMP SUPPORTERS!?” hysterics, as if it is a warning from history, following many documentaries in the year since Trump was elected and had his inauguration. It is a piece that should attract both pro and anti-Trump supporters as it represents both sides evenly but I don’t feel I learnt anything new and if you are going to do a political production you cannot be as frothy as this production is.It needs to make people think and a musical about Trump, that doesn’t mention Obama or Bernie Sanders feels like his underestimated its audience.

 

Great Again is on at The Vaults Festival until 28 January https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/great-again-the-musical/

Old Sole Theatre Company and their current projects can be found here http://www.oldsoletheatre.co.uk/ 

 

VAULT Festival unveils its 2018 Programme

Vault Festival announced its diverse and large programme today. It includes a range of immersive theatre experience, including an adaptation of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan from team that brought you The Great Gatsby experience in 2017. The festival has expanded beyond its original space and is working with theatres in Waterloo to provide a comprehensive and always original Vault experience.

Theatre

Neverland, by Theatre Deli and The Guild of Misrule, producers of the 2017 immersive theatre sensation, The Great Gatsby, returns to VAULT 2018 with a full eight week run of this immersive musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic. This dark and dangerous world will be brought to life throughout the labyrinthine Vaults, with audiences encountering glittering pirates, mermaids, food fights, absinthe bars and soaring live music from a band of lost boys. Caravan, will serve up a healthy dose of immersive hip-hop dance, whilst Lamplighters will see audience led through an immersive, improvised spy story in the style of John Le Carre for a hilarious evening of drama, deception and treachery.

Revelations see the return of critically acclaimed James Rowland with a storytelling show about giving his best friends his sperm. Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, from Wound Up Theatre, sees two Brits meet on either side of a radical divide, while writer John O’Donovan’s If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You, sees two gay robbers do a whole lot of blow in this critical hit from Old Red Lion. Further new work comes from writer-performer Jessica Butcher with SPARKS, Abi Zakarian with I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, Katie Jackson with Conquest and much more.

Circus & Magic

Becoming Shades.jpgBecoming Shades serves up a sensory feast of dance, aerial acrobatics, music and fire performances up close and personal in Hades’ underworld as Chivaree Circus explode their 2017 award winning re-imagining of the classic myth of Persephone into a full 8-week immersive circus extravaganza. Directors and performers David Aula and Simon Evans team up again following 2017’s hit The Vanishing Man, to explore hypnotism and the human mind with The Vanishing Mankind. Born without hands or feet, Mahdi the Magician will perform wonders at VAULT, having overcome these incredible obstacles to become one of the world’s most extraordinary magicians.

Female Led

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Continuing its commitment to female-led work, VAULT are proud to have programmed over 52% of shows written or directed by women. Paper Scissors Stone from Fringe First winner Katie Bonna takes a sharp-edged peek into gender conditioning whilst Glitter Punch, from Some Riot Theatre, deals with student/teacher relationship boundaries, receiving nine 4 star reviews over its run in Edinburgh. Foreign Body is the critically acclaimed solo show about healing after sexual assault from Imogen Butler-Cole, and The Strongbox by Stephanie Jacob looks at domestic slavery. Other female-led work at VAULT includes Mission Abort, Ad Libido, Big Bad , ZINA, A Girl and a Gun, Double Infemnity, The Vagina Dialogues and many more.

BAME

For a Black Girl, a piece of straight, honest storytelling from Nicole Acquah, is a powerful response to the claim that racism doesn’t exist in the UK. Upcoming star Nicole Henriksen’s second solo show, A Robot in Human Skin, is a heartfelt look at mental health, and the ways we treat and understand it while The Year of the Rooster Monk, sees award-winning absurdists Les Foules present Giselle LeBleu Gant in a part-cabaret, part-narrative, part-seance spectacle, which explores millennial isolation, black feminist movements and the problems of gentrification.

Focusing on stories of young black men in contemporary London, Still, We Dream by choreographer Joseph Toonga explores the power of relationships and the ugly reality of ‘the trumps and triumphs’ of reaching for your dreams through free-flowing, animalistic, expressive movement, blurring the lines of hip-hop and contemporary dance.

Accessibility and Integrated Arts

VAULT Festival will this year partner with the iF Platform (Integrated Fringe) to showcase the work of companies and artists producing work with disabled and non-disabled artists. MIA: Daughter’s of Fortune, from Mind the Gap, tackles the taboo subject of learning disability and parenthood with silliness, stories and statistics. Further integrated work includes the playfully devised Follow Suit from Silent Faces and Georgia Morrell’s Eyecon with more to follow.

LGBTQ

The festival celebrates a host of gender explorative pieces with the likes of Gypsy Queen, which offers a bold response to homophobia in boxing after widespread acclaim in Edinburgh. TESTOSTERONE is the critically acclaimed physical theatre comedy from Rhum & Clay, following Kit as he transitions from female to male in his early thirties, experiencing life on both sides of the gender divide. Consumables is an alarming concoction of knives, gimp masks, fetish videos and hostages and further gender explorative and LGBTQ work comes from Paloma Oakenfold with the darkly funny Stud, as well as Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal’s The Poetry We Make and Tumulus by Christopher Adams.

Musicals & Cabaret

Today’s ludicrous epoch is heartily lampooned by writer Isla van Tricht and composer Guy Woolf with Great Again, a musical exploring the sensitivities of Trumpian America, while the musical and political tomfoolery continues with The People’s Rock: A Musical from Nevertheless She, in which an impressionable young woman navigates a dystopian landscape with only 2020 US presidential candidate, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to guide her. From the creators of the award-winning sellout hit Buzz, Fat Rascal Theatre present Tom and Bunny Save the World, a zombie apocalypse musical which places women in the roles usually taken by men: the soldier, the scientist and the sexual instigator.

Family Entertainment

The multi-award-winning theatre company, ThisEgg, invites children and adults alike to save the world one bee at a time with Me & My Bee, a political party disguised as a party disguised as a comedy show. With a new supervillain in town, Doktor James’s Bad Skemes enlists audiences of all ages to help prove the title character is, in fact, the evilest guy around with more child-friendly shows in the form of One Duck Down by Faceplant Theatre and the return of cult classic Funz and Gamez from Phil Ellis.

Lates

The festival’s series of Lates promises to lure those seeking a further theatrical fix into the small hours as they revel in a selection of specially curated themed parties including a debaucherous Valentine’s Party, London’s fattest Mardi Gras celebration, a St Patrick’s Day blowout and an evening of funk, soul and Motown as South London Soul Train heads underground. Neverland’s party promises an exhilarating late night adventure while Chivaree Circus host LABYRINTH where revellers will delve into a world full of mind-boggling aerial performances, stupendous circus feats and intimate encounters. Trough London will turn up the heat with their leather-clad instalment, and The House of Burlesque: Lock In promises “Showgirl Explosions”, mini-burlesque tutorials, bespoke cocktails and a secret speakeasy for the night Time Out dubbed ‘Moulin Rouge on Acid”.

VAULT has also announced its Writers Gap scheme for talented emerging female writers to meet with producers and programmers from London Theatres, including the Donmar, Almeida and Old Vic, to explore and remove industry-wide barriers as well as a satellite venue as Vaults expands outside its Waterloo home and cements itself as one of London’s best Performance festivals

VAULT will for the first time spill into Waterloo East Theatre for a wide variety of shows with yet more programmed at the Network TheatreRubber is an hour-long immersive show promising to thrill as audiences ride out the action set in a car circumnavigating the streets of Waterloo.

BOX OFFICE/TICKETS 

Online via VAULTFestival.com

Phone via 07598 696 202

In person at The Vaults box office from 5:30pm during festival opening dates

Prices vary, ticketed events from £5

Tickets for Waterloo East shows are also available through waterlooeast.co.uk

Puppy, The Vaults Festival

Puppy is the story of lesbianism, feminism and porn in a patriarchal world. Naomi Westerman’s piece, produced by Little But Fierce, is unashamedly open about sex and sexuality but perhaps it says more about me than Westerman that I enjoyed the group scenes rather than the intimate two-handers.

Puppy is basically a big F-you to everything; traditional, heteronormative romances and weak women dominate many plays but not here. Our two leads are Lesbians (though one thinks she may be bisexual after coming out as a lesbian at 12), one is a porn star, who enjoys sex and is funding her PhD rather than an addiction and the other is a bookmaker. It isn’t that the concept doesn’t work-women like sex and PhDs are expensive, but I struggled with the two leads, not because I wasn’t convinced by them but by their relationship. The two leads barely touch and it isn’t that a play about sex needs to be sexual but the rest of the play very much is. The direction of the dogging and porn audition scenes are very sexual and wonderfully directed Rafaella Marcus but the lack of chemistry between porn star Maya (Lily Driscoll) and Jaz (Rebekah Murrell) is very disappointing in a play that has the potential to be groundbreaking.

Where the play gets interesting in Maya’s emergence as feminist porn icon and has lots to say on the amendment to the 2003 Communications Act and subsequent protests, where women sat on faces and Nick Clegg got involved. It is seen as being anti-women and promoting a UK porn industry that is meeting the needs of men, and not the women involved or who are viewers. I do wish Westerman’s play had focused more on this, it needs the character of Maya but she doesn’t need a dull relationship to vindicate her. It also means we get to see more of the great support cast (Maria Austin, Benjamin Chandler, Andrew Lawson and Jo Wickham) and Marcus seems to be at her best when directing groups, with a montage of Maya’s porn company’s growing success being one of the highlights, aided by Will Alder’s strong sound and light design.

This is very much a work in progress and my suggestion would be to have less of the romance and more of the sexuality, which is actually interesting, funny and gives the audience something to care about it.

Puppy is now finished but you can follow Naomi Westerman‘s work via her website.

Hip, Vaults Theatre

The Vaults on Leake Street is the right venue for a show about squatting in a dead woman’s house and life. Beneath Waterloo Station, in a subterranean space, theatre’s squatting in it.

The artist Jolie Booth, in a one-feminoid show, billed as “extra-live” (etiquette free with assumed added value for the audience), is there to sell us on hedonism, youthful creativity and the romance of the commune. This involves conflating her beatnik lifestyle from 2002 with the life of the lost hippie who once occupied the same Brighton premises. Rummaging through her stuff – letters, photos, diaries (death giving implied consent) – snapshots of a lost consciousness, Booth becomes, in every sense, an Anne Clarke habitué. She revisits her spiritual landlord frequently, hunts for biographical clues, traces relatives, and on the basis of close identification with the woman and her creative aspirations, addictive personality and libido, builds a show out of fading impressions.

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It’s an interesting piece, perhaps because our host has anointed herself as the dead woman’s spiritual successor. There’s talk of sharing wavelengths, being linked by something more universal than boring old genes. The lineage being traced here is sociological, cultural. Booth sees Clarke as her prototype, fatally compromised by patriarchal bullshit like domesticity and motherhood – bohemian buzzkill. In Clarke’s alcoholism, that inconveniently, when one’s trying to build a human being, obscures the last 16 years of her life, leaving blank pages, she sees a cautionary tale. We learn the artist doesn’t drink anymore, though we’re encouraged to toast the deceased boozer with a shot of tequila. This felt like shooting a gun in memory of John Lennon. At the end, one imagines the last fucking thing Clarke wanted was to be remembered with alcohol.

Your enjoyment of the show and the opportunity to interact with artifacts from both women’s lives, in a representation of Booth’s old squat, will depend on how interested you are in either. Is this self-absorption and the hijacking of biography or a novel variant on Who Do You Think You Are? One wonders about those missing 16 years. Did Clarke repudiate her younger self? Did a moment of clarity lay waste to the affectations of the past? And would someone who didn’t consent to becoming public property enjoy being ventriloquized on stage? Our host has no more idea than we do but it’s a compelling evening; a chance to watch the watcher as she pins up a proxy.

Britney, Vaults Theatre

After a sell-out run at the 2016 Edinburgh Comedy Festival Britney comes to London as the part of the Vaults Festival. It is a sketch show with a difference, all the sketchs are about Britney, not Spears though her music features heavily, but Charly Clive’s brain tumour.

britney_supporting_image-3It is odd subject for comedy yet Clive and Ellen Robertson, her best friend who was around throughout the diagnosis, operation and recovery, hilarious show makes you wonder why more don’t make shows about their various ailments.

Whilst it is Clive’s tumour that the show is about it is Robertson’s show and feels very much like a showcase for her rather than a joint effort. Only occassionally does Clive get to shine in the non-straight (wo)man role as the anaesthetist who seems to have no social off-switch and it is a show case she deserves, she’s very strong as the Russian phlebotomist who both terrifies and puts Clive at ease.

Character comedy aside it is a moving story about friendship and once I had got my head around their relatively privledged lifestyles (Robertson can afford to have no job and spend months supporting the ill Clive at her Clives’ house. I do not live this life) I understoof how important it was that they had this time together to develop this great show.

My only issue is that it is a show that really could have and should have been updated in light of political events, they touch on the fact that Clive lived in New York for years and received poor medical care and it is treated with a shrug. My opinion why sketch show isn’t in a great mainstream place right now is the lack of anger in comedy (and lack of TV channels to put it on, no YouTube/BBC3 on the internet isn’t good enough) and there’s so much attempt to be a feelgood show because a 23 year old woman being disgnosed with a potentially life threatening/life changing brain tumour is a downer but as a result it doesn’t feel real or that urgent. The fact Charly is there, performing brilliantly etc etc is enough that the heartwarming aspect didn’t ring all that true because it all turns out alright, doesn’t it? We get a great show, Clive is cured…

Well, maybe. The most moving part is Clive’s realisation in a sketch about her post-op is that fact the some of the tumour remains in pituary gland and it is never confirmed if she has fully recovered,lack of periods and vision problems are mentioned throughout. The next step for this duo is not lose momentum, this is a great piece and hope they continue as a duo with more great ideas for shows.

Britney is on until 29 January (and SOLD OUT!)

Daddy’s Girl, The Vaults Theatre

img_0993Georgia Brown’s playwrighting debut is strong but seems to lack purpose and energy.

Based on a true story this has been marketed as a look at British prison life, the issue is that Brown’s two-hander, with Mark Wingett (Jim Carver in The Bill) as her jailbird father Terry doesn’t even touch the surface of what it is really like to be in prison and most of what we hear of Terry’s time is second/third hand information.

The strength is Brown’s writing is the aspect of loneliness her portrayal of Eliza is a millennial living alone in London, as aside the question of how she can do this is a temp is barely touched up and only briefly is the issue of eviction brought up and Terry’s loneliness in prison as he manages to source a mobile and bothers his daughter after two years of no contact.

There’s a lot of humour but the performances at times felt too over the top and Brown includes an incredibly indulgent scene of her singing. Whilst I understand the need to provide work for yourself in this very tough climate her writing is full of confusing aspects, such as Songs of Praise on a Friday and Strictly Come Dancing on Sunday, to be convinced by her debut and it feels more like a showcase for her acting, which just isn’t as strong as her writing.

There are some lovely flashback scenes, Brown is better at playing young Eliza and her mother Nicole than she is her main character, but it feels to unfinished, Wingett’s Terry just isn’t that complex or interesting but as a production it uses its space well. There is some great video design by Alex Vipond, such as the text messages Eliza receives, the flashbacks to Nicole from Terry’s point of view and the hardcore porn Eliza resorts to watching and it is nice to see video design used to enhance a story rather than enhance a set.

Alice Martin’s direction does feel uninspired from a director used to work with small sets and the relatively large theatre space just isn’t utilised to full effect. Overall it feels like Brown has an interesting story to tell but for some reason has held back. We never fully understand why he got life and crucially we never fully understand why they keep coming back into each other’s lives. He’s been a poor father and as a result she’s a disinterested daughter. I hope this short season inspires Brown to develop the story better.

 

Daddy’s Girl ended on 28 January 2017

 

Naomi Westerman On Sex in Theatre

It’s a warm evening in September and I am watching one of my closest friends give his wife (also a good friend) a good seeing-to over a chair. It is their first wedding anniversary. The enthusiastic audience hoots and cheers. I smile and go back to reading the ‘dogging’ section of a popular UK swingers forum.

If you are a playwright, actor, or theatre-maker, none of this will raise an eyebrow. Probably.

I have been playwriting for three years, and most of my work has been in fairly serious drama or drama with elements of comedy, generally female-centric work relating to mental health, disability, women, contemporary urban life with the odd dystopia thrown in. I was walking home one night and noticed someone had graffitied the word ‘dogging’ on the wall of the tennis centre near my house, with a helpful arrow pointing towards the car park. I went home and wrote a ten-minute play that evening, which could not be anything but a comedy. A year later and that short play now forms the opening scene of my full-length feminist lesbian pro-sex political protest porn play ‘Puppy’, which is one of two of my plays debuting as part of VAULT Festival next month.

Writing about sex is never easy, staging sex harder still (no pun intended), and I’m not sure if trying to make all this sex comedic makes it better or worse. Sex is inherently funny (and I believe also inherently political), and dogging occupies that weird area between cheeky Carry On British humour, and something sometimes perceived as more seedy and sordid (which I was keen to avoid).

 

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Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room

Finding the right balance between comedy and a more serious approach when dealing with issues of sexual orientation, identity, porn, exploitation, censorship, politics and protest was sometimes difficult, but one challenge was figuring out how to script and stage the sex scenes themselves, in a way that was funny but not cheesy or exploitative. Theatre does not have a great reputation for staging sex scenes well, although I have been inspired by previous productions that used imaginative and inventive metaphors (the Lyric Hammersmith’s Tipping the Velvet’s exploding canons and circus silks) and staging (the RSC’s It’s a Mad World My Masters’ silhouettes and curtains). In David Hare’s The Blue Room, Nicole Kidman was famously described as “pure theatrical Viagra”; I certainly have no desire nor interest for one of my productions or cast to ever be described likewise. I’d rather get a good solid laugh.

 

In my other VAULT Festival play, Claustrophilia, sex is the unmentionable elephant in the room. The one-woman drama centres around a young woman who is “totally fine” but who spend her adolescence kidnapped and held as a prisoner in a single room. She claims he never touched her, and chastises the audience for their salacious interest in those particular details. Sex, whether absent or present, always has power.

Puppy is on at Morley College, 23rd February, 2nd March. http://www.vaultfestival.com/event/puppy/2017-02-23

Claustrophilia is on at Vault Pit, 17th to 18th February.

http://www.vaultfestival.com/event/claustrophilia/2017-02-17