Mark Ludmon picks out some of the highlights of this year’s Vault Festival in London
Vault Festival just gets bigger and bigger. After growing to more than 300 shows last year, it is back for its seventh year with over 400, featuring more than 2,000 artists. Over the next eight weeks from January 23, there will be theatre, comedy, immersive experiences, cabaret, late-night parties and other live performance. We have been sifting through the programme to pick out some of the new theatre highlights.
One of the headline shows is Counting Sheep, the award-winning immersive Ukrainian folk opera, playing throughout the eight weeks. It is a deeply personal retelling of the revolution in Ukraine, where creators Mark and Marichka Marczyk met and fell in love on the barricades. It was an acclaimed sell-out hit at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 but, after a world tour, is being staged in this new version by Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin of the Belarus Free Theatre. Forge, 23 January – 17 March.
Rascal Theatre’s new production, Galvanise by Helena Westerman, works across different art forms including animation to blend past and present, celebrating friendships and bringing women from history to life: Caribbean chieftain Anacaona hanged by Spanish invaders in 1503, 16th-century Irish pirate Grace O’Malley, northern Indian queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi who fought the English, and three school girls in London in 2018. Cage, 27 February – 3 March.
Another play exploring “herstory” is 10, telling the history of Britain since Boudicca through 10 influential women, from Æthelflæd to Mary Seacole, Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan. Written by Lizzie Milton and directed by Nastazja Somers, it explores the prejudices and obstacles women have and continue to face. Cavern, 13 – 17 March.
Bottle Cap Theatre uncovers the little-known true story of self-taught mathematician Sophie Germain in new musical The Limit. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, it explores how she disguised herself as a man to submit work. Network Theatre, 6 – 10 March.Amelia Earhart is the inspiration for Woman! Pilot! Pirate!, a new show from Pareidolia, a theatre company that supports disabled (and non-disabled) artists to create what they want, on their terms. In a world of pirate ships and haunting music, Emmy seeks to build, sail and fight her way to finding the heroic pilot, still missing after 81 years. Studio, 27 February – 3 March.
Madeline Gould and Joel Samuels tackle questions over consent and #MeToo in their intriguing, voyeuristic show Greyscale, inspired by the controversy over US comedian Aziz Ansari’s misinterpretation of a date. Audiences will be split into two to hear two separate monologues by a man and a woman talking about the same date as well as peep in on the pair having the actual meet-up. Vehicle Venues, 2 February – 17 March.
After a sell-out run of Balancing Acts at Vault in 2017, Feral Foxy Ladies & Kaleido Film Collective are bringing their own perspective on dating. The show, called I Would Like to Get to Know You, is a showcase of real-life dating stories from the humorous to the downright questionable. Crescent, 6 – 10 February.
Another show about dating is I Stopped…When, presented by new theatre company Acquah&co, founded by actor and writer Nicole Acquah. Following three poets battling it out in a slam poetry competition, it is a “verbatim as poetry” show about public pressures, interracial dating and what the art we make says about us. Cavern, 23 – 27 January.
Clamour Theatre present Juniper and Jules, a new play by Stephanie Martin telling a love story about queer relationships, non-monogamy and how we choose to love. Directed by the award-winning Bethany Pitts, it debuted at London’s Theatre 503 and will be heading out on tour. Pit, 23 – 27 January.
From Irish company Sickle Moon, Tryst by Jeda de Brí and Finbarr Doyle is described as an “anti-Valentine’s Day play”. It touches on themes of consent, betrayal, love and friendship. Cage, 13 – 17 February.
Another new play about love is Vespertilio. Love and bats. Written by Barry McStay and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, it is the story of one man’s obsession and the charming young runaway he meets in the dark. Cavern, 20 – 24 February.
New play Open, by playwright Christopher Adams and his husband, actor Tim Allsop, is another romance, this time exploring a real-life open marriage. Switching between verbatim, storytelling and comedy-drama, it draws on Grindr chats, private emails and interviews with current and former lovers. Cage, 23 – 27 January.
Adam Foster’s new play, Wood, looks at pornography and patriarchy through the story of porn star John Rolando. When he fails to get it up, his life – and the play – begins to unravel. Brick Hall, 27 February – 3 March.
Snapper Theatre presents a new comedy-drama, Thomas, by Robbie Curran, exploring the experience of living on the autistic spectrum and the challenges it poses in life’s milestones and in the everyday. All performances will be relaxed: spectators can come and go as they need and make noise, well-lit throughout and with no strobe lighting, flashing lights or sudden loud noises. Network Theatre, 23 – 27 February.
Sara Aniqah Malik’s debut play, Salaam, explores Islamophobia and the experience of being a Muslim in London through the story of a mother and her daughter. Drawing on interviews with Muslim women, it combines live music and lyrical language. Cavern, 30 January to 2 February.
Flux Theatre will present the world premiere of Bottled, the debut play from BBC Writers Room’s Hayley Wareham. Tackling the impact of domestic abuse, it tells the story of Katy whose life is torn apart after her mum marries. Performed in support of Women’s Aid, it exposes the consequences of refuge closures and funding cuts to women’s services. Cage, 13 – 17 February.
HL Nixon’s debut play, Lola, explores the feminine form and the prejudices and assumptions that society places on women. Inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, it features 18-year-old Lola who takes drastic action in a world where the male gaze threatens to overwhelm her. Cavern, 23 – 27 January.
Lola is one of two plays at Vault from Papercut Theatre. The other is Dangerous Lenses by Australian playwright Brooke Robinson which follows a woman who begins to suspect that there is something not right with her new neighbour. Described as a taut thriller, it explores how alone we can be in a crowded city and how much you can trust what you see. Studio, 23 – 27 January.
A new one-woman play, called Everywoman, from an anonymous writer reveals in raw detail one woman’s confessions about her darkest thoughts about motherhood. Performed by Charlotte Merriam, it is a “deep and dirty” dive into being a woman, the danger of autobiography and the existential threat of motherhood. It includes a baby-friendly matinee. Brick Hall, 13 – 17 February.
Anima Theatre Company’s new play, Blue Departed, brings Dante’s Inferno up to date in a collaboration with playwright Serafina Cusack. Re-imagining Dante as a heroin addict visiting his own personal hell thanks to his lover Beatrice, it provides insights into addiction and co-dependency. Cage, 23 – 27 January.
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) explores depression but is described as a “hilarious cabaret musical” that explains, sings and throws glitter about to remind us that it is OK not to be OK. It is written by Jon Brittain, whose play Rotterdam won an Olivier Award, with music by Matthew Floyd Jones of cabaret duo Frisky & Mannish. Crescent, 30 January – 3 February.
Orlando is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, taking her title character through the 1960s, the Aids crisis and the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Written and performed by Lucy Roslyn, it explores the desire to escape our identity. Pit, 20 – 24 February.
Gender identity is also explored in one of Vault’s shows for children. Encouraging inclusivity and creativity, Spun Glass Theatre’s comedy Princess Charming aims to help children aged seven to 11 to gain a deeper understanding of their own identities and, in doing so, break free of gender stereotypes. Studio, 21 February – 3 March.
Frankie Meredith’s new play 17 from Wildcard theatre company looks at the pressures facing teenagers in the internet age: trying things, learning stuff, failing, succeeding, heartbreak, expectations and shame. It follows best friends Yasmin Sidhu and Casey Smith, two 17-year-olds in the Midlands, as they make choices about their lives. Cavern, 23 – 27 January.
After being a hit at Edinburgh Fringe seven years ago, female-led solo horror show Carnival of Crows is making a comeback after a revamp. Written by Molly Beth Morossa, this Victorian-style thriller fuses poetry, puppetry, cabaret and comedy. Cavern, 13 – 17 February.
More horror can be found in new play The Darklings from Nic Lamont and Adam Rhys-Davies’ theatre company The House of Macabre which had a brief outing at last year’s London Horror Fest. Inspired by otherworldly feminist stories, it is a dark comic nightmare about outcasts, the occult and Wotsits sandwiches. Pit, 1 – 2 February.
There are more macabre goings-on in another work by Joel Samuels. A Wake in Progress from Fine Mess Theatre combines scripted scenes and audience interaction offering a “humorous yet moving” tale of love, death and funerals. It invites audiences to consider what death means to them and even face up to their own fate. Cage, 6 – 10 February.
Other premieres include Leave a Message, a comedy about “the things we leave behind when we die”. Written by Ed Coleman and James Mitchell, it follows Ed as he sifts through his late father’s flat with his friend Sarah. Despite its subject matter, it is said to be hilarious as well as heart-breaking. Brick Hall, 20 – 24 January.
Exit Productions return to Vault after winning the festival’s Innovation Award last year. This time, they present the world premiere of their ambitious immersive project Fight Night where two boxers enter the ring and it is up to the audience who is crowned champion. They also get to meet the people behind the scenes including trainers, promoters and the fighter’s own family. Unit 9, 30 January – 17 February.
Physical theatre ensemble The PappyShow present a cycle of plays comprising: Boys, a celebration of manhood with the things about boys you never get to see; Girls, which explores the complex yet joyous stories of women of all ages; and Care, a touching tribute to the NHS. Crescent, 13 – 17 February.
David Coverdale’s new play, From Afar, promises to be an amusing and touching portrait of a woman who has spent her life writing letters. Starring Catherine Millsom, it is aptly staged in the quiet intimacy of the Travelling Through bookshop in Lower Marsh. 6 – 9 March.
Vault Festival features plenty of transfers from Edinburgh Fringe such as Malaprop Theatre’s Jericho about wrestling, Incognito Theatre Company’s explosive physical production Tobacco Road, jet-black comedy Ladykiller, the award-winning The Myth of the Singular Moment, and (one of my 2018 favourites) the surreal and hilarious comedy Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist.