For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my time in the cavernous tunnels beneath Waterloo Station, surrounded by the smell of damp concrete, the sound of trains rumbling overhead and hundreds of wonderful people. Not because of London rent prices (yet) but instead for the city’s biggest Arts Festival – all hidden underground.
VAULT Festival is a six-week showcase of new work and ideas, an explosion of “creativity, innovation and chaos”. With up to twenty shows each night spanning theatre, comedy, performance, music, art and more the programme is full to bursting. All this on top of a series of workshops, debates and late night events from a variety of hosts including Ideas Tap and Artful Badger, music in the Subterranean Bar and the theatrical dining experience of Marco’s Italian Meatballs. The tunnels are definitely alive – and prove that Fringe Theatre is very alive too.
I’m working as a Festival Assistant (FA) for VAULT, which during the festival means I am mostly involved in Front of House responsibilities and helping companies with the changeovers between shows, though thanks to the team behind the festival I’ve been lucky enough to get involved in all aspects.
As an FA I’ve had the chance to see such a range of performances. Stand-outs for me include ‘Idiots’ (an incredibly funny and clever retelling of the Dostoevsky novel produced by Caligula’s Alibi), ‘Dealanach’ (a beautifully choreographed show by feminist theatre company Boireannach exploring the role of Woman, made even more beautiful by the acoustics of the tunnel with resonating a cappella harmonies) and then there was the Nest Collective’s Ceilidh Liberation Front, which made for a lot of sweaty dancing and big grins (and which I’d love to get to Ventnor!).
Actually, there’s a lot from the festival that I’d love to see in Ventnor: some truly great new writing and ideas. I could list a lot in this respect but just one more example is Two Roads written by Matt Parvin. The drama explores how we respond to catastrophe and the various outcomes our decisions create – in this case a married couple in the midst of a global catastrophe must decide who goes with their child to a ‘Government Safe Zone’ and who is left behind. Each performance has five possible endings and 256(!) different possible versions of the story, determined by the flip of a coin live on stage, smoothly integrated into the performance. You could watch the show every night and see something different each time.
VAULT festival is in a perfect location both in its unique setting underground and London base. The festival doing brilliant things for Fringe theatre in a city often dominated by the bigger productions. And London is amazing just for the sheer amount of innovative, creative people and things. There’s a real buzz and the potential to create bigger impacts. But can Fringe theatre thrive in such a way outside of the major cities? In a beautifully eccentric town on a little island in the South West?
This was a subject touched upon in “The Big Arts Debate! Cultural policy and the future for UK theatre and the arts” – one of the series of panel discussions hosted by VAULT. In this particular discussion, panellists included cultural representatives from the Green Party, Labour Party, UKIP and the current HM Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, chaired by journalist and BBC presenter Rosie Goldsmith. Among many things the discussion took in various aspects of the parties’ cultural policies, often focussing on how the arts could be better developed in regional areas. This largely related to funding and also to the role of the Arts Council and local authorities in supporting this as well. This is a subject we often talk about at the Ventnor Fringe – how to create cultural hubs outside of London.
Essentially, what the VAULT Festival is so good at, and what the Ventnor Fringe aims to do too, is creating a buzzing creative community, a place for collaboration, new ideas and to be inspired – for audiences, performers and producers alike. That and being somewhere you know you can go to just to have a really good time. It’s an escape and something different, be it underground, beneath the city or between the downs and the sea on the Isle of Wight. Though understandably regional festivals such as ours have to work a little harder than our city counterparts to attract similar levels of attention.
I’ve definitely come away inspired – it feels like a good time for independent projects and new work, from fringe theatre to music…the arts in general.
And to the lovely team at VAULT Festival a big thank you and if you feel for a festy summer holiday by the sea, Ventnor has a surprising amount of secret underground hideaways for you to play with!
The VAULT Festival runs for 2 more weeks until March 8th – so Join Us Underground:
And a reminder that applications to the Ventnor Fringe 2015 are open now – so Make the Artists’ Pilgrimage: