Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

“Are you here for Hopeful Monster?” she asked.

I was.

“25% of the ticket price goes to child.org,” she says, peeling off a large round sticker off an A4 sheet.

“Oh nice,” I say taking it from her.

It’s pink. “I [heart] my mum,” it reads.

I look around, not knowing where to stick it. Not sure I want to wear it on my coat. I leave it flapping around on my fingertips.

I tuck myself away next to the staircase and make friends with a horse’s head wearing a St Paddy’s Day Guinness hat. He doesn’t look overly happy about it, although whether it’s the hat or my need for company that’s distressing him I can’t quite work out.

Soon more people arrive to collect their stickers, each looking more perplexed than the last as they try to work out what to do with it. A man dances around as he bounced his stickered-up hand between coat and scarf as the final home of his sticker. He settles on the front of his hoodie and pats it down on his chest. The look on his face suggests that he has immediate regret.

One woman has it on the back of her hand.

The stickiness on my fingertips is starting to bother me. Without thinking about it, I grab my phone and smooth the sticker down on the back. Just like I would if I were at the Donmar and this was one of the stickers handed out to the fillers’ queue on press night.

I couldn’t see my face, but I imagine it looked just like the man in the hoodie.

Regret. Deep and sorrowful.

My phone is new. So new that I still haven’t managed to buy a case for it.

And now I had a cheap paper sticker stuck to it proclaiming how much I [heart] my mum.

People rush up and down the stairs and I press myself against the wall, out of the way while they lift chairs from unoccupied tables and carry them back up.

A seat cushion slips off one.

“That's not supposed to happen,” laughs the woman as she tries to fix the chair.

“Don't worry, I won’t tell anyone,” I whisper back.

Eventually, the procession of chairs came to an end and we were allowed upstairs.

“It's unreserved seating, but if you can leave the first two rows free for children that would be ideal,” said the person greeting us at the top.

The stage was small. A table, flooded with light from a totem pole of lamps set up on either side. Close proximity would be essential.

I dither next to the third row, trying to decide whether the aisle seat on the short right-hand row would be superior to the aisle seat on the slightly closer left hand row.

“It’s a full house,” calls the usher. “So if you can all move down.”

I panicked, and picked the long row on the left, going right to the end, next to the fireplace.

“A minute later they first two rows are completely filled with grownups.”

I looked around. There was not a single child to be seen. Reminds me of the Puppet Barge in Little Venice. These shows may be made with children in mind, but it takes a childless adult to want to traipse out to these things on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, you know that I don’t write a lot about the actual performance in this blog. That’s not what we’re about at the marathon. But in this case, I wouldn’t have been able to even if I wanted to. Because I didn’t see it.

No, I didn’t have to leave due to a near fainting incident. I assure you, I was in the room and in my seat the entire time.

I just couldn’t see it.

Literally, none of it.

Oh, I occasionally caught a glimpse of a hand when it was lifted far enough off the table to be visible over the heads of the people sitting in front of me. But not enough to establish any kind of storyline. For me, Hopeful Monster was nothing more than 40 minutes of listening to gentle music.

There was a giraffe at one point, I think. And some grass. And a creature which was possibly a pterodactyl. But beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what the show was about or what happened in it.

Recently I’ve been playing with the idea of awarding badges to certain theatres. Best Madeleines. Longest queue for the loos. You get the idea. There’s one badge in particular that scratches away at my conscious. Forget the “I [heart] my mum” stickers. If I were going to hand out anything after this trip it would be the “If this were my first trip to the theatre, I would never return.”



Read More

I summoned a Demon

"Hold this thread, please," says Katy Schutte, our host for the ceremony, as we step into the Pit.

I held the thread up by my head and Katy unwinds the spool down to the ground so that we now have a length of cotton that matches my height.

This is my last trip to the Vaults. Well, that's not quite true. I have one more Vault Festival venue to go. But it's not in the Vaults tunnels, so perhaps it doesn't quite count.

Now, I can see that look on your face. It's a look that says - Max, you lied to us. You said that Talented Mr Ripley was your last Vaults show. And now you're saying that not only was it lot your last performance at the festival, it wasn't even the last one to be taking place in the Vaults.

To which I say... well done. You got me. But if you recall a little further back, I managed to turn up to the Pit for this sho a whole month early. So really, if you think about it... this post is just an extension of that one. A four-week-long immersive experience, if you will.

And, following on from that train of logic, perhaps that is how it was meant to be. I was called to the Pit by forces unknown and unseen, for reasons that have yet to be revealed to me. Perhaps they wanted to make a measure of me too. In preparation for my return.

"You can take a seat to the south," she added, standing back up, helpfully pointing to a bench just in case I didn't know where south was (I didn't).

The Pit is the smallest of the Vaults venues, with just enough room for a narrow stage and three concentric circles of bench seats. The same benches I had found in the Cavern for Carnival of Crows. I think these must be the Vault Festival 'alternative' chairs. Their vintage/witchy/spiritual option, for vintage/witchy/spiritual artists. They're bloody uncomfortable.

"I have a task for you," said Katy, once we're all almost sat down. "In the centre of the circle, you'll find paper and pens. I want you to write a message to a man who did you wrong."

The ladies to my left burst out of their seats and scramble to get started. They have words that need to be said.

It's then I realise that we're nearly all women. I look around. Only four men, in a room of women.

Read More

Playing gooseberry

Let me get one thing started before you go getting any ideas. I know what you're like. Always thinking the worst of me. But, and I cannot say this strongly enough, I absolutely and utterly did not gatecrash someone else's date night.

I would say, if anything, they gatecrashed mine.

I was perfectly content taking myself off to see my last show in the Vaults. I tramped up and down that black corridor, seeing plays about serial killers, and young people making mischief in foreign lands, and confidence tricksters, and I was ready to watch something completely different.

So I booked a ticket to The Talented Mr Ripley.

See, I have breadth. I can also watch a play about a young man who goes to Italy and ends up murdering multiple people while defrauding the father of a friend who thinks he's helping return the boy home...



Anyway, as I was saying. I was fine going by myself. I had my ticket all booked already.

But then Martha saw the show in my spreadsheet and wanted to come along. So she bought a ticket to the show.

And then a few days later I get a Whatsapp message at nine in the morning from her. I knew it had to be important, as Martha isn't the type to send my Whatsapp messages at nine in the morning.

"Soooo I just told Luke about Talented Mr Ripley, and he was outraged that I hadn't invited him as it's his fave book and film... so I'm afraid we have a plus 1 on Weds, he's bought a ticket."

And that's a direct quote. Apart from the punctuation. I added that in.

So, you can see. I am not responsible and I refuse to accept the label as gooseberry. Are we clear? Great.

Moving on then.

Martha and I took the bus down to Waterloo. It was only Wednesday but it had already been the longest week since records began. This was not the evening for any form of activity that could even tangentially be linked to healthiness. We needed stodge. And alcohol. And to be dropped at the door with the minimal amount of walking possible within the confines of the TFL infrastructure.

“I can’t download my ticket,” said Martha, stabbing at her phone screen with a frustrated finger, as we made our way down Leake Street.

“You don’t need it,” I said, slightly hurt. It was true. She didn’t need it. But she would have known if she had read any one of my multiple Vault Fest blog posts.

“At all?”

“No. It’s only bag checks to get through the main door and then you give your name at the actual venue entrance.”

But of course, I don’t need to tell you this. You’ve been with me enough times to the Vaults to know the system off by heart.

But for once, I was going off script. I wouldn’t be heading straight to the venue door to start queueing. With a guest in tow, it was time to sample what the Vaults to offer in the way of emotion-drowning sustenance.

That is, if we could figure out how to get hold of it.

“Do we order at the bar?” Martha asked as we made our way past security and down the dark corridor of doom.

“Yeah, I think so. But which one?” By my count we had already passed two, and there was a third coming up.

“Shall we just sit down?”

That sounded like a sensible option. I am very much in favour of sitting down.

At barely past six o’clock, the Vaults were almost empty. We grabbed the end of a long table, coated with a thick later of flyers and festival listings, and a few other overeager festival-goers over on the other end.

“I do like the Vaults,” said Martha, as I struggled with the stools. Shaped like beer barrels, they needed to be tilted on their edge and rolled in order to shift anywhere. Which is fine, under the cushion topped falls off. I was way too tired for that shit.

I could only sigh my agreement.

The Vaults are a fine place to visit. When you’re young. Personally I like proper chairs. And tickets. And good signage. And not to feel like the oldest, most uncool, person in the building.

Being around Martha, and the newly arrived Luke didn’t help, with their young, fresh faces, and ability to sit on a barrel without looking like a plonker.

“Drinks?” asked Luke.

Fuck yes.

And food.

Frankfurters were on the menu. Which sounded just the right level of stodge and carbs for a night like this. Bonus points for being topped with curry sauce.

“This is really good,” said Martha.

It really was. Nice soft bread. Lots of onions. The side of roast potatoes was mediocre (too soft. No salt), but the currywurst was really doing their job.

The G&Ts didn’t hurt either.

“So, why do you love Ripley so much?” Martha asked Luke.

Ah! Now that was a good question. I’ve seen the film (who hasn’t), and started off the year with a play about its author, but we had a bonafide fan at the table and I was keen to hear more.

“He’s just a great character,” started off Luke.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said a woman, interrupting. “Would you mind if I gave you this?” she asked, flapping a flyer around. “It’s a dark and funny show about eating disorders…”

We all made polite noises until she went away again.

I looked at the table, strewn with flyers, and saw before me a league of performers, desperate to yank people into their shows.

“We should probably go in,” I suggested, picking at the last potato. They may not have been great, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to polish them off.

We gave our names on the door and were whisked off into a wide corridor.

“Would you be interested in using our captioning service tonight?” asked a lady, poised to pounce on anyone walking through.

I wasn’t. Neither were Martha or Luke.

We pressed on. Down the corridor and… up a flight of stairs. That was new. I didn’t even know the Vaults had an upstairs.

Although, if I were to have imagined an upstairs at the Vaults, it would have looked exactly that. Cramped up against the top of a tunnel, battered looking armchairs huddle together in groups on the opposite end to a neglected bar. In an effort to inject a form of whimsy, some plastic wisteria was draped around the doorway, giving the whole space a rather atticy vibe. Although I couldn’t decide whether it was more Jane Eyre, or Flowers in…

Across the room and we were transported to the back the Crescent’s auditorium, the rows of chairs descending before us.

Somehow, I had managed to save the best Vaults venue for last. It was a theatre. A real theatre. No temporary seating here. These chairs looked like they had been lifted from an art deco cinema - in the 1930s. Everything had a gently moldering air. As if we were the first people to step inside for decades.

Down on the floor-level stage, a man sat with his back to us, clacking away on a typewriter. The sound echoing against the rumble of trains above our heads.

Read More

End of the line

Is the Network Theatre a cool theatre? For some reason, I’d always had it filed away in my brain as a cool theatre. Something to do with the location (down a scary road down the arse end of Waterloo Station), or the name perhaps. Whatever. I’ve always considered it one of the capital’s cool theatres, which is probably why I’ve never been before.

And why, when it came to get the Network ticked off my list, I couldn’t damn well find it.

According to Google Maps, I should be standing right on top of it, but there was nothing there but an empty road and a blank wall.

Thankfully, a small niggle of intuition told me that I should check the Network’s own website, and there I found the charming warning “Network Theatre is rumoured to be difficult to find, so check out the map and directions below before your first visit.” But more importantly, up top and in bold, they are the foresight to include: “While the VAULT Festival is on 30 January – 17 March 2019, please use the Launcelot Street entrance, located off Lower Marsh, between Greggs the Bakers and a repair shop. Festival Assistants will be there to guide you.” Brilliant. I knew exactly that was. I even knew what the Festival Assistants looked like. Pink jackets. That’s what they wore.

Back down the road I went, down a flight of stairs, road the corner, past Greggs, down Launcelot Street, and there, waiting at the bottom, was a pink-jacketed Vault rep.

“Hello,” she called out to me when I hurried down the road towards here. “Are you here for the Network Theatre?”

“I am!” I puffed back.

“For The Limit is it?”

“It is!”

“Excellent,” she grinned back. “It’s just this way,” she said, moving towards some tall metal gates. They looked very official what with their number key pad and signs and industrial lighting overhead. She pushed it open and held it open for me, using her free hand to point down the street beyond. Well, I say street, but really it’s a tunnel. If you ever take the exit from Waterloo Station that’s just past the MacDonald’s, the one that faces onto the Old Fire Station, and wondered what was down that dark and dingy alleyway on your right, the one always full of service vehicles and men in hi-vis jackets, well… it’s the Network Theatre.

“It’s on your left,” she explained. “There’s a big Vault Festival banner by the entrance.”

Good thing too, because even knowing it was on the left, I could have walked past it a hundred times without seeing it if it wasn’t for the banner.

If subtly is cool, the Network Theatre is by far the coolest venue in London. It’s like those fancy restaurants that don’t even put a number on their door, figuring everyone worth knowing already knows about the place, and everyone who doesn’t, they wouldn’t want turning up anyway.

Once you step through the door, there’s no question of where you are. I doubt Network Rail goes in for dark red receptions. Nor do I imagine them to be soundtracked by the distant strains of a vocal warm up.

For once at a Vault venue, there was no usher wearing a tablet slung over their shoulder on a string. There was a proper box office. With a laptop and everything.

“The bar is open if you want to have a drink before the show,” said the woman manning the desk after we’d sorted out the business of names. No need for tickets or even admission passes it seems. Give your name and go straight in. That might just be a Vault thing though. The Vault Festival doesn’t anything as old fashioned as tickets. It’s all tablets on strings and pdf e-tickets down their way.

Through the door on the right, and I was plunged into a dark corridor. Very dark. The red of the reception was left behind and was replaced by theatre blacks, a curtain separating corridor from theatre-space. The warbled notes of the warm up intensified.

My eyes searched for anything in the black, a corner, a seam, a crack -anything to guide me through. I kept on walking, and eventually a slip of light opened up on the left, pouring out from the bar. I dove into it, finding myself blinking against the sight of the mint green walls.

Oh… this was not what I was expecting. With the rows of faux leather chairs, and sad looking bookshelves, it looked more like a dentist’s waiting room than the bar of a theatre. Especially not a cool theatre.

Perhaps, I thought, with a flash that took me by way too much surprise, perhaps the Network Theatre wasn’t a cool theatre at all. Perhaps I’d got it all wrong. Perhaps the Network was really just only of those weird little outer London theatres that had mistakenly found its way to Waterloo after getting on the wrong train. It happens to everyone at some point, why not to a theatre?

But then, with an equally surprising flash, another idea took hold.

It was all part of an ironic aesthetic. A theme bar. And the theme was train station waiting room, circa 1974.

That made much more sense.

With a smug stride, I strode over to the bookshelves to check out what titles that they had on offer. Train timetables and trainspotters’ guides, I bet myself. And those official looking leather-bound tomes were probably some old bylaws of the rail network or something equally wryly dull.

I stood staring at them for a full twenty seconds before I my brain was able to process what they were.


Normal playtexts.

As you might find in any theatre bar with literary pretensions.

Shakespeare. Tom Stoppard. John Osborne. Joe Orton. David Hare.

It was a good collection to be fair, but…well, it’s not quite the library at The Bush, is it?

I moved onto the leather bound books, hoping that there at least me might get a wink of wit.

I crouched down to get a proper look at them.

Readers Digests. Every one.

When I said it looked like a dentist’s waiting room, I didn’t realise quite how accurate that was.

“Can I have a Diet Coke?” someone asked at the bar.

I nodded approvingly. Good choice. The dentists’ choice.

“Its room temperature, just so you know,” said the barman as he placed a can down in front of her.

Warm coke? Ergh. Just the thought was enough for my stomach to roil over.

I escaped back to the safety of the black corridor, where such travesties are hidden in the shadows.

Thankfully, the house was open by this point (the black curtain had been drawn back), so I went in. This was lucky, as it meant I had a pick of seats, and I could select one that had a freesheet on it. Now I understand the logic of only placing one freesheet on every other chair, as most people going to the theatre tend to do it in twos, but as a frequent solo flyer, I don’t want to be left in the cold when it comes to knowing who’s in the cast.

Especially this cast… I mean, come on. A musical about a lady mathematician during the French Revolution… I was never not going to love it. I didn’t understand a word of the maths, but you know I love me some britches action.

At the end of the show, our star (who I know is called Nicola Bernardelie because I got me a freesheet. You won’t find that information anywhere else. Believe me. Not even the theatre company’s own website. I’ve looked. Sort it out, Bottle Cap Theatre) stepped forward and politely asked us to write a review and to get out, because the next batch of audience members would be arriving any minute.

I did as I was told. Both in the getting out quickly, and the writing of a review (ta-daaaa!!!).

Back out in the weird, tunnel-street, I struck off in the direction of Waterloo. I didn’t get very far.

“Oh,” I said, turning to the two women walking behind me… “I think we’re locked in?”

It did appear that way. Large metal gates blocked the exit.

“Just push it,” said one with a knowing smile.

I pushed it, and it swung open easily. I matched her knowing smile with an embarrassed one.

Whatever the coolness-level of the Network Theatre, it seems I’m not going to reach it any time soon.

Read More

You’re in a cult; call your dad

After bidding goodbye to my intrepid theatre-pie tasters, it was time for me to head off to my next show.

Oh, you didn't think I was done for the day, did you? This is a four-show weekend, my friend. Five if you include Friday night's convoluted trip to the Barbican.

I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Not really. 

My next show was only down the road, in the basement of the Travelling Through bookshop.  

This is my first bookshop if the marathon. 

I've done the former library that is The Bush, and the library-library that is the London Library. But no bookshop. 

Unless we count the Samuel French bookshop being based in the Royal Court, but I think we can all agree that we won't be doing that. 

So, there we were. On Lower Marsh Street, about to find out if bring able to purchase the books on the shelves makes a difference to the theatre they surround. 

Travelling Through is a very small shop. Or at least, that's how it feels when you are crammed shoulder to shoulder with the rest if the audience, as you wait for one of the Vault Festival ushers to check you in on their, by now familiar looking, tablets. 

After Helen's comment at the Vaulty Towers, suggesting that waiting around while holding a pie was actually part of the show, I did wonder whether this close proximity to my fellow audience members was an attempt to show us what life was like for a book, tucked up on the shelf next to its brethren. But the house was soon opened and we filed downstairs, and I forgot all about it.

The little basement cafe is a cosy space. Long tables take up most of the room, but they'd managed to fit in enough tall poufs for us all to sit on.  Each one topped with a freesheet, which was a nice touch. You don't see many of those in the Vault Festival, which is such a shame. And not just because I'm a paper freak. Even with the wonders of the internet housed in our hand, its surprisingly tricky to find out the names of people involved in shows without one. Everyone talks big game about programmes having had their day, but I think we've still got a while to go before I'm made redundant. I mean, they're made redundant. They. Not me. I can do other things than producing programmes. I swear. Please don't fire me.

At one end, a woman cradled a mug of tea. Somehow she'd managed to score an entire table to herself. 

It was xxx. Our performer. 

We all pretended not to notice. 

"What's your view like," asked a glamorous looking woman as she took the pouf next to me.

I glanced over at xxx to assess the situation. 

"Limited," I admitted.

She considered this. "I think I'll sit on my leg, " she said, tucking up one leg under her. 

Read More

I Done Fucked Up

It's the seventh week of 2019. Which is also, coincidentally, the seventh week of the theatre marathon. And right now, I have more theatres than days checked off on the calendar. I should by rights be feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm doing well. Really well.

I'm about a fifth of the way through my list, and we haven't even got to the end of month two. I'm ahead of schedule.

But I don't.

If anything, I'm dogged by the constant thought that I need to up my game. Fit in more theatres.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

But here's the thing: the marathon keeps on getting longer.

Only last week @weez sent me a tweet with the name of a theatre I had never even heard of before. Which I am incredibly grateful for, don't get me wrong. I'd rather find out now than on 31st December.

But every time I get a new theatre to add to the list, I end up feeling like I am yet another step behind. Or another theatre behind, rather.

I didn't help that the show I had been planning to see on Friday night had gone and cancelled. A one-night performance at a venue that, shall we say, doesn't have the fullest of programmes.

It was a serious blow. 

It was all starting to feel like it was getting away from me.

I had to do something. Knock a whole pile of venues down in one go. Help regain some control of this damn mess.

So, on Saturday, I was going to go full festival mode and head back to the Vaults to hit up four shows in one day.

Because that is how sensible people react when they are only a sixth of the way through a year-long challenge. Especially when they are feeling rougher than an emery board. They panic, choke down enough cough syrup to treat a tuberculosis ward, and prepare to have their emotions pulverised by seven hours of theatre, finishing with a riot.

Yup, I was going to that Belarus Free Theatre immersive thing. Well, it's not actually Belarus Free Theatre. But it has people from Belarus Free Theatre connected to it. And I wouldn't be partaking in the immersive elements. But still. It was my last show of the day. At 9pm. And I'm old. And sick. I should definitely be in bed at 9pm on a Saturday night. Not watching other people mess around pretending to be revolutionaries.

Still, I figured I would worry about that once I got to it.

It was going to be a long day. No point working myself up about these things too early.

When I got to the Vaults, I headed through the main door. I was pretty excited by that. I hadn't as yet managed to see a show at any of the theaters that lay beyond. Unit 9 was all the way down the other end of the tunnel, the Studio was accessed through a small door just to the right of the main one, while Seance was housed in a van parked up on Lower Marsh Steet.

My hopes were soon dashed when an usher, no doubt sensing my pre-paid anxiety plan, asked what show I was going to see.

"Ah," he said, grabbing a small map from the box office counter. "You need to go back outside, all the way to the end of the tunnel, turn left and then left again. You'll be there in thirty seconds. And there's a Greggs right on the corner."

I'm not entirely sure whether he mentioned that last bit as a landmark, or if he thought I was in need of a good vegan sausage roll. Both, quite possibly.

I did what he said. Walked through the tunnel to the end of Leake Street, turned left, and turned left again, and ended up in Granby Place. No sign of a theatre, and more importantly, no sign of a Greggs either. That wasn't right. I turned around and headed back. Leake Street. Turn left. Ignore Granby Place. Walk on, keeping an eye on any openings on the left and... yup, there it was. Greggs on the corner of Launcelot Street. My knight in pasty armour.

And further down there was a metal gate, small queue, and the now familiar sight of the pink-jacketed usher.

I'd made it.

I joined the queue.

"Can you open your bag," the pink-jacket on queue duty asked the man at the head of it.  Hey duly unzipped it and pink-jacket rummaged around inside. "You can't take that in," she said, pulling out a bottle of water. "You can tip it out and fill it again inside."


I watched in horror as the man poured out his water onto the pavement. Oh no. I definitely didn't want to empty out my own water bottle. Not with my nice cold water from the fridge at home. Who knew what the water at the Vaults was like. Or if it was even properly cold.

I unzipped my bag and checked to see that my own bottle was well hidden.

I had done good work that morning. My bottle was utterly invisible, under cover of my umbrella, book, makeup bag, purse, and all the rest of it.

As I reached the front of the line, I presented my own bag for inspection.

Pink-jacket, reached into my bag and pulled aside the book. I held my breath.

"That's fine," she said, waving me through.

I breathed again, and with the smug smugness of a smug person who has never yet had a bottle confiscated at the theatre, I headed in.

"Name?" asked the woman on box office.

I gave it.

She checked it against the list, and nodded to herself. "You've got a restricted view ticket, but I'm just going to upgrade you so that you're an Observer now."

I stared at her.

That wasn't right. What did she mean Observer ticket? There were only Observer tickets for the riot show. Not this one. Unless this was the riot show. Wait. No. That was this show? The one I was at now? I thought I'd be doing that in the middle in the night.

"I need to stamp your hand," she said slowly, holding the stamp out ready.

Shit. I wasn't prepared.

"Oh, right," I managed at last, presenting her with my hand.

Too late I realised that I should probably have thanked her for the upgrade.

Shit. It was too late. I'd already found myself into another queue. My third one of the afternoon.

An usher stepped out and raised his voice over the din of people chatting and drinking. "If you are an Observer with a green stamp, you can go straight in and take your drink, bag, and coats. If you are a Protester or a Front Line Protester with a blue or purple stamp you cannot take anything in."

I clutched my bag, with its secret water bottle.

I had made the right decision.

The Forge, like all the other Vault venues, is housed within a railway tunnel. For Counting Sheep two banks of seating had been set up at both end. And in the middle - a long table with bench seats either side. If you squinted, you could almost make pretend that it was the Grand Hall at Hogwarts.

I ignored the benches. They were for the Protesters (Front Line and... Rear Protesters, I guess). As an Observer, I had access to the real seating at the ends, protected from the action going on in the middle by a metal barrier.

The show began with a short speech, and a bowl of borsht.

Enamel crockery was piled up at one end of the table alongside a matching jug of spoons, with instructions to take one of each and pass them down.

Next came steaming pots of the red soup and tiny cups of a white topping.

"This is sour cream," explained one of the cast members as he started handing out the cups.

Wooden trays of bread followed, then bottles of vodka.

The smell of the borst made its way to the Observer's carrel.

My stomach gurgled in anticipation of a meal not meant for me.

Only Protesters get to eat.

But then, someone came over with a tray. And then another.


Bread with some sort of eggy topping. And pickles.

Perhaps because it was a matinee and not sold out, and they had leftover food, the trays kept on coming.

I greedily took everything on offer.

It was delicious.

But as the food supply died down, my cough decided to make an appearance.

All that bread had dried out my throat.

I needed a drink.

I reached under my seat and pulled out my bag, using the loud music as cover for unzipping it. I reached in, digging past the umbrella, the book, my makeup bag, purse and all the rest of it. Huh. I turned my bag around so that I could try from another direction. Still nothing.

Oh no.

I tried again, more frantic this time. But it was no good. I already knew the truth.

I had forgotten my water bottle. It was still at home. In the fridge.


It was too late anyway, the cough had started. I swapped my bag for my scarf and did my best to smother it, but the pumping music did more to cover the noise than my scarf ever could.

One of the cast came over and started clapping his hands to the beat. Once, twice, then three times on the knees. He leaned in, encouraging us to follow him.

One, two, then three on the knees. One, two, then three on the knees.

There was no escape.

We had taken the bread, and now we had to clap for our supper.

I tried. I really did. But I'm never going to be a rhythmic clapper. As soon as the cast member disappeared back into the scrum of Protesters, I lost the beat.

After that, every time a cast member reappeared, I got out my phone and started taking photos. With photography of the show sanctioned, nay encouraged, it was the perfect cover.


Eventually, the riot died. The noise quietened. The emotions intensified. And then the show ended.

As the Protesters went to pick up their coats, we were directed towards the exit, found in the opposite end of the tunnel to the one we had gone in by.

I wound my way around the seating, round the corner, through a door, and found myself in the Vaults' bar.

That was... odd. Why had they sent us out to roam the streets of Vauxhall if the space could be accessed through the bar? Yet more proof that us mere mortals are not meant to understand the workings of Vault Festival management.

But I had no time to ponder such matters as there were only ten minutes until my next show.

I fought my way out of the bar and into the main corridor of the Vaults. It was the first time I'd made it that far without being directed back outside. I could finally see what the Vaults actually looked like. And the answer is: really fucking dark. Black walls are topped by a black ceiling, and punctuated by black doors. Painted with white circles. Just so you can make them out in all the blackness.

The doors each led to a different theatre space: Brick Hall, Cavern, Pit, and so on. You can tell which is which from the glittering signs above their doors, and the lightboxes posted on the wall next to them. Lightboxes that I would later find out turned red when there was a show going on inside.

On the floor (black), were painted white lines - guiding our feet as to where to stand as we queued to get into our shows.

After fighting my way through the thoroughfare, I found my way to the door marked Pit and joined the line.

"Name?" asked the usher on the door.

I gave it.

She scrolled through the list of bookings on her tablet.

"Did you just book your ticket?" she asked.


She continued scrolling, down to the bottom of the page and then back up again. It didn't take long. These venues are pretty small.

"Hang on," I said. "Let me bring up my e-ticket."

She glanced at it on my phone. "Can you open it?" she asked. I had only opened the email, with its preview of the attachments.

I tried. But there was no signal.

Okay, no need to panic, I told myself. But I wasn't listening. I was too busy panicking.

She radioed through to box office.

As she did that, I noticed something. The name of the show, written on the board. It was not the show I was expecting to see.

Had I got them in completely the wrong order? Was I living my day backwards? Starting with the last show and ending with the first?

I showed her the ticket again, pointing out the discrepancy.

"You came a month early," she said.



She was right. The ticket was for March. Not February.

"Dammit. Thank you. Shit. Thanks."

A minute later I found myself disgorged back onto Leake Street.

If I had any sense I would have turned around and quickly bought a ticket for the show just about to start in the Pit. But I hadn't researched the show. I didn't know what it was about. I didn't know if it was... and I shudder to say the word... immersive. I was already at peak levels of anxiety. There was no way I could put myself through that. It was too big a risk.

Instead, I was going to do something utterly safe. Something I had done before. Something I knew to be good, and true, and pure. I was going to go to Caffe Nero and get myself a hot chocolate and toasted teacake. With marshmallows.


A little more than an hour later, I was back. In the black of the tunnel. But standing outside a different theatre. This time was the turn of Brick Hall.

"Are you here for Birthright?" asked the usher on the door.

"Yes," I said hopefully. I had checked the e-ticket on my phone every ten minutes since last leaving the Vaults. I really hoped I was there to see Birthright.

She brought out the dreaded tablet and checked the list.

Thank the theatre gods. This time my name was on it.

Finally, I could relax. I was at the right venue. At the correct time. In the proper month, even. I was back on track. Almost. I mean, sure, I had messed up my four-show day. But a three-show day was still pretty impressive. And I could pick up that fourth show easily enough. I already had the ticket. Everything was fine.

I leant against the wall and lazily watched the people drift back and forth from the bar.

But then I noticed something. Something terrifying.

One word. Written in lights above the door of the venue opposite.



Did I have that venue on my list? I couldn't remember.

I got out my phone and checked my spreadsheets.

Nope. No entry for Glasshouse.


I looked at the board, where all the upcoming shows that day would be written down, hoping to only find a list of music or comedy shows. Shows that would discount it from the marathon.

The board was empty.

Was that good or bad? I couldn't tell.

Good if it never had another show for the rest of the year.

Bad if I had already missed the only shows it planned on holding within its walls.


This would never have happened if the Vault Festival had set over a list of all their shows categorised by venue as I'd very politely asked them if they could. I mean... not to be all "the theatre festival ate my homework," but doing data entry for hundreds and hundreds of shows by hand is bound to lead to errors. Which is what I'd had to do when working out my marathon plan for the Vaults, as the festival webpage doesn't allow searching by venue. I had literally clicked on every theatre and performance show, one by one, in order to build my spreadsheets. And now I find I'd left out a whole goddamn theatre.

"Is this your first show?" asked a front of houser, interrupting my panic attack.

I didn't know how to answer that. "It's my second," I said. "Of the day." I couldn't admit that it should have been my third.

The door to the theatre opened. "The house is now open, if you'd like to step inside."

Thank the gods.


Despite the name, the Pit is set out as a more conventional fringe-theatre space. With the trains rumbling overhead I could have been at the Union Theatre. Raised banks of seating overlooked the flat floor of the stage. It looked almost exactly like the Studio, except for the black curtain hiding what looked like an impressive section of tunnel behind it. And the two actors from Birthright. They emerged all youthful and full of energy, and I was able to giggle along with their antics for an hour before I was released back into the black once more.

What now? It was ten past seven. My final show of the day wasn't until nine.

And Caffe Nero shut at eight.

I considered the bar. I'd been asked by someone who is aware of my marathon, but didn't read the blog, whether I had drinks at the theatres I visited. "You're reviewing the experience, aren't you?"

Well, yes, I am. But firstly, I'm not much of a drinker. So, my theatre experience doesn't tend to include alcohol unless my theatre companion is after one (or rather, needs one, after spending the evening with me...). And secondly, can we take a moment to consider the cost? I mean... blimey. If you think programmes are expensive, have you seen the cost of a G&T in a theatre bar? Lastly, and most importantly - I'm going to the theatre seven or eight times a week at the moment. That's a lot of alcohol to be consuming. I'm already worried about my mental health in relation to this challenge. Let's not add concern for my liver to my list of woes.

So, not the bar then.

There was only one thing for it.

I was going to Pret.

By the looks of it, most people were going for the other option.

When I arrived back for my final show, ushers were blocking the corridor, trying to shut people up with the use of laminated signs are hard glares.

But it was no use.

The screen advertising "menus inspired by the EU," was causing much hilarity in the people walking past, clutching Vault Festival branded cups.

I found my final theatre of the evening and hugged the wall.

The corridor was packed. Drinkers and theatre-goers pushing past each other in both directions.

The Cavern turned out to be appropriately named. The largest Vaults venue I had seen thus far, I seemed to be walking through the long tunnel for an age before reaching the seats.

Even these were different. Spindly wooden benches, they looked like the corrupt offspring of a church pew and the stile in a fence.

"Two?" asked the usher.

"One," I said putting up a single finger.

He directed me towards the front row.

The benches were even more ungodly then they looked. The seat portion too narrow to rest on comfortably.  The show hadn't even started before I was wriggling around, trying to find a better position. But there was no better position. Leaning forward or back, sacrificing either your bottom or your thighs in order to save the other from torment.


I tried to turn my attention on other things: the winklepickers being worn by the beautiful goth couple sitting next to me, the pretty birdcages hung on the wall, the black arch sunk into the back wall that looked like it was a portal to the underworld.

Then I tried to focus on Molly Beth Morossa's beautiful words, but it's hard to concentrate on a gothic tale of murder and intrigue when every vile deed she describes with macabre detail is matched by a equally macabre pain attacking your bum.

When my inevitable coughing fit arrived, I lost my balance, almost throwing myself off the poor excuse for a seat, as I fought to hold both them, and myself, back.


Loved the Carnival of Crows. The thematic carnival seating, however, can go burn in hell.


Tripping the Ecto Fantastic

“Come close,” said a red jacketed usher, looming above us as she stood in the doorway of the van that will serve as our theatre. “I have a little speech to give.”

After my emotional trip to the Studio at the Vault Festival earlier that afternoon I was back, this time in one of their vehicle venues - parked at the end of Leake Street.

I was a little annoyed when I saw how close it was.

After trying and failing to get an answer out of the Vault Festival twitter feed as to how much time I should allow to get myself from a show in the Studio to a show in a vehicle venue, I could now see that time was zero seconds.

The check in point is literally just outside the main doors.

Thanks @VAULTfestival. You’re doing great work there not allowing yourself to get distracted from all that praise retweeting by indulging in a touch of customer service. Really super. Well done.

We do as the usher says, gathering close together - just as much to protect our shivering figures again the cold as to hear about our fate.

There weren’t many of us. Three sets of couples, and me.

“Once you come in,” red jacket continues now that we were suitably huddled. “You’ll be given a short opportunity to leave. But once the lights are off, that’s it. You’re stuck.”

A woman standing near me giggled nervously and her companion for the evening smirks. I’d already clocked the pair of them as out on a first date. She’s into tarot cards and healing. He’s trying to pretend that he doesn’t find that incredibly off-putting.

“If you really don’t like it,” says red jacket, “take your headphones off, and it will draw to a close naturally.”

Suitabley terrified, we were ushered into the back of the van.

A long table covered in a white tablecloth greeted us. Hanging above were dim lights, and bells, both hanging low. And either side - two rows of comfy chairs. With headphones.

“If you’re sitting on the right, take the headphones from over your right shoulder. If on the left, your left shoulder,” ordered the red jacket from the door.

After a little confusion about getting my left sorted from my right, I managed to pick the right (that is… left) headphones.

Further left and right disentanglement followed, matching up the big painted L and R on the phones themselves to my corresponding L and R ears.

“Can you hear me?” came the faint voice of the usher once we’d all managed this challenging feat.

We nodded.

She clapped. “Can you hear that?”

We nodded again. We could. Just about.


And with that she left, shut the door, and plunged us into darkness.

From the other side of the van I heard a door open, and someone coming in. Footsteps clomped around behind me. I had the remind myself there was nothing behind me other than the solid wall of the van.

An unseen voice instructed us to place our hands on the table. I did as I was told, setting my palms flat against the rough cloth. We were taking part in a séance, calling on the departed souls of our loved ones. We must not remove our hands from the table. That was very important. Or the spirits might break free.

I wasn’t overly fussed about that.

Or calling about the spirits of my loved ones, to be honest.

Any spirit would do me.

I’ve been hankering after meeting a theatre ghost for years. And if this was my time to finally get my ghoul on, there, inside a dark van parked on the end of Leake Street… well I wasn’t about to complain if the ectoplasm dripping on my shoulder belonged to a stranger.

I blinked in the darkness. It didn’t seem to make any difference.

I experimented. Closing my eyes, and then opening them again.

A few feet away, I spotted the glimmer of a light.

Someone had forgotten to turn their phone off.

A second later it disappeared.

The blackness took over.

The voices in my ear grew more frantic. Something was going wrong.

I clamped my hands down hard on the table. It was a touch too far away. My arms ached from being stretched out so long.

I wriggled forward, until my knees crashed against the solid block that was the table. It was really uncomfortable sitting like that. My muscles ached. I needed to move my arms, shake them out, but I didn’t dare.

My heart was hammering.

It was so cold. I hadn't taken my coat or shall off, but the freezing air had seeped under my skin.

I wanted to take my headphones off. I wanted to wrap my shawl tighter around my shoulders. But I couldn’t lift my fingers from the table.

My hands began to tremble.

Was it the cold, or terror? I knew it was all rubbish. No one was there. It was just a recording.

If only it weren’t so dark…

The trembling became a shudder. It wasn’t my hands. It was the table. It was rising up, taking my hands with it.

I bit the inside of my mouth, telling myself over and over that it was okay. 

Noises clanged around us. It was so loud. My fingers twitched as they begged to cover my ears.  

Louder and louder until I couldn't take a second longer... 

The table shook violently as it sank back down to the floor.

The awful clanging stopped.

Something was moving around the room again.

Something… not human.  

And then… and then the lights flickered back on. A faint glow, inching itself brighter until we were left blinking at each other across the table.

The pair on the first date had their hands stowed in their laps. They grinned at each other sheepishly. Those two will go far.

The couple that disobeys together, stays together after all.

The door crashed open. “Everyone out!” ordered red jacket.

We scuttled out of the van, our heads bowed. No one wanted to meet each other’s eyes, lest we reveal how scared we were.

Safely back in Waterloo and juddering off home on the tube, I checked my phone.

I’d tried to take a photo of the inside of the van, but my photo roll was completely empty. It jumped straight from the graffiti of Leake Street to the shadowy outside of the van. There was nothing to show for my time inside.

Now, either that’s just my crappy phone or...


Pottering about

People who have anxiety shouldn’t have to go to immersive theatre.

People who have anxiety shouldn’t do theatre marathons.

When the Vault Festival released their line-up earlier in the year I was a just a tad concerned about the number of spaces they were taking over, but also a little thrilled. Nine venues that were relevant to the rules of this challenge. Nine venues that need to be burst through within a single festival. Nine venues that include: Unit 9.

I didn’t understand the significance of this space at first.

It was just one in a long list of venues that I needed to get to.

That was until the very moment when I sorted my massive spreadsheet of Vault shows by venue and spotted something: every single show taking place in Unit 9 was immersive.

Every. Single. One.

Because, and forgive me if you already know this, Unit 9 is an immersive theatre space. That’s what it’s there for. That’s its thing.

If I was going to complete this marathon, I was going to need to get my immersion on.

After releasing a plaintive cry out over Twitter, the no-nonsense @Weez sorted through the options and leant me her analysis of the situation. Something for which I will forever be grateful for.

The Archive of Educated Hearts it was.

Ticket booked!

After the gentle charm of the Puppet Theatre Barge earlier than afternoon, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to be thrown into the anxiety-inducing world of immersive theatre.

When I got to Waterloo, I headed straight for the nearest Cafe Nero for a restorative hot chocolate and toasted tea cake.

Yes, it may be rather pre-emptive to be having my restorative sugar-dose before the show, but who knew if I would actually survive to eat carbs again!

And yes, I’d already had a hot chocolate that afternoon on the barge, but I’d got a taste for it by then. I wanted that warming feeling in my belly once more.

Teacake consumed, I had to admit that I had done as my preparation as could possibly be expected, and I made my way over to Leake Street.

I’d been there before. Back when the Vaults first opened and everyone was buzzing with excitement about this brand new venue. But since then, my internal map has grown a little faded and I had to look up the “Finding Us” information on the e-ticket. A little vague on first read, but I put my faith in the instructions and soon I was making my way down the “first set of stairs you come to” and found myself in the heavily graffitied tunnel that is home to the Vaults.


Bag checked, I headed inside.

Oh good. There was a map up on the wall.

I scanned it: Cavern, Pit, Forge. All places that I’ll be visiting over the next few weeks.

But no Unit 9.

I looked over at the chalk boards displaying all the start times of the shows that day.

No The Archive of Educated Hearts.

Had I imagined the entire thing?

Have my dreams of going to the theatre now extended into my waking hours?

Was Unit 9 nothing more than a nightmare dreamt up by my anxiety? I sure hoped so.

But I thought I better double check all the same.

“Hi. Where’s Unit 9?” I asked at box office. “I don’t see it on the map.”

“Are you seeing one of the immersive pieces?”

I cringed. “Yes.”

“Is it Séance?”

“No. It’s the one with the really long name.” We stared at each other. “Hang on.” I got my phone out. “Archive of Educated Hearts?” I said, as a question.

“Right,” she nodded. “If you head outside you’ll see a sign for it. Just wait there and you’ll be led over to the venue.”

I did as she said, heading back out.

I saw a sign of the studio. But nothing for Unit 9.

“Sorry, where’s the queue for Unit 9?” I asked a pink-jacketed usher.

“Are you here for one of the immersive experiences?” she asked.

I cringed again. I wish that would stop using that word.

I nodded. “Archive of the Educated Hearts,” I said.

She pointed my across the road.

“Just over there. If you talk to the lady in the pink jacket, she’ll tell you where to go.”

Passed over to my second pink-jacket of the evening, I was checked in via the medium of a tablet and then the both of us, pink-jacket and me, waited for the rest of the gang to arrive.

I was relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one confused by this system.

“Is this for Archive?”

“Are you queuing for Unit 9?”

“Do I need to give you my name now?”

But eventually we all got our names ticked off on the tablet and a third pink-jacket arrived.

“Everyone for The Archive of Educated Hearts and Escape the Jacket…” He paused dramatically. “Follow me!”


We followed him, down the tunnel, past the graffiti artists and the photographers recording their work. Past cafes tucked into arches and anti-Brexit artwork. Past a rapper who was apparently filming a music video (“he has his lyrics on the floor,” giggled the girls in front of me who seemed to recognise him).

Then reaching for a part of the wall that looked like every other part of the wall, our personal pink-jacket opened a previously invisible door and ushered us in.


The stark pale stones and strung up lights were a bit of a shock after the riotous colour of the tunnel. It was like being ushered into a cave.


“If you’re here for Escape the Jacket, stand over by that wall,” called the man behind the desk. “Everyone for Archive - over there.” He pointed slightly further into the space.

Our group split into two.

Standing a few feet off, a woman in full Marlene Dietrich mode (including the top hat), escaped from another show (and possibly a jacket), smiled at us as we were led past, deep into the cavern.

We rounded a corner, and there, was our destination.

A small garden-shed.


“You can leave your bags over there, if you like. No one else will be let in. They’re quite safe,” said a young woman wearing comfy looking dungarees and a warm scarf. “Come in, take a seat. If we’re sold out one of you will need to take the very special seat on the floor. Don’t worry, there’s a cushion.”

We ducked our heads and went in, inching our way along the walls to reach our seats.

It was a tight squeeze, but very comfortable. Postcards flittered above our heads, clipped onto twine. A desk was cramped with oddments from old watches to books to dried flowers.

And the smell… something floral and herby. Like the insides of a Miller Harris boutique. I breathed in deep.

“I’m closing the door now,” announced our dungareed host. “If you want to leave, just let me know. I’m only locking it to stop it from opening itself.”

She introduced herself (“I’m Casey”) switched on a CD player that looked like it was lifted straight from my dorm bedroom at school, laughed at the music (“spa music”), removed her coat and began to give us the housekeeping speech. All very casual. All very chill. I began to relax.

So did everyone else.

One woman even asked if the music could be turned down. “You don’t worry about that,” assured Casey. She was right, we didn’t.

We didn’t need to worry about anything.

Casey led us through the show, sometimes playing clips of people talking, sometimes showing us photos, sometimes talking herself. Everything with a warm earnestness that was a soothing balm on my anxious soul.

A men closed his eyes to listen. A woman rested her head on her partner’s shoulder and squeezed his hand tight. The lady who had asked for the music to be turned down dabbed at her eyes.

After half an hour, we were let out.

“I’m just going to give you a card from CoppaFeel,” said Casey, removing a pile of small cards with instructions on how to self-exam your breasts from the desk. “Keep one or give it to a loved one.”

I took a card, and a minute later I was disgorged back into the tunnel - with its graffiti artists, and photographers, and people queuing for shows. And I felt utterly, and totally, calm.