The Vault Festival returns to London

I cannot emphasise enough how great this is going to be. The Vaults won Lambeth’s “Best Start-Up of the Year” in 2014 and I totally get why.

Firstly the setting itself is genius: the Vaults are spread across the myriad of passages and spaces beneath Waterloo. It probably isn’t surprising then that they are the little sister of the near by Old Vic Tunnels (sadly now closed) and run by the same people.

You enter through an inconspicuous doorway, tucked away in the graffiti covered walkways under the station. The place reminds me slightly of the Parisian Catacombs or Cable underneath London Bridge. So you can imagine, it’s the epitome of urban cool. That sounds horribly pretentious but actually somehow The Vaults pulls it off without smacking of the try-hard Shoreditch scene, and pop-ups, and hipsters, and all that other stuff that I’ve come to feel slightly jaded about since moving to Putney.

It’s just about the complete opposite to my pre-London days when I would sit by the lake and watch the mist rolling over the mountains, but that doesn’t mean it’s not captivating in a sort of grungy, dark and quite eerie way. You might need to look a little closer, but for me it’s spaces like this in the city which remind me the man-made world can be alluring and even beautiful too, and that is something I need to hold on to. Otherwise I might just go crazy living in this concrete jungle.

Aside from the unique location, which to be honest is a reason to visit in itself, there is the upcoming arts festival, simply named the Vaults Festival. Alongside Southbank, Glasto and some of the UK’s better summer festivals, the Vaults Festival takes its own place as an impressive mash-up of cultural delights. It’s just not as well known. Which is a good thing.

Last year saw a mix of theatre performances, live music, comedy sets, discussions, themed parties, DJ sets…even a burlesque circus… It sounds amazing and guess what? It was! I have no doubt this year will be remarkable too.

Unfortunately I only managed to go to one event last year, but it was a spectacularly good one. Possibly the best theatre production I’ve ever been to. Really. Although I will be honest and admit that it probably helped a smidgen that it was based on one of my favourite books – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The show was directed by none other than Lou Stein, one of Hunter S. Thompson’s good friends (being the geek that I am I picked him out of the crowd afterwards). If you’re a H. S. Thompson fan then this article written by Stein about their friendship might interest you:

Anyway back to the show — it was fantastic.

Of course the setting was perfect; the cramped, dark room felt like some hidden space in the mind which you might retreat to while on a particularly immersive and intense trip (or maybe it was like a microcosm in time… which is basically what the story of Fear and Loathing is all about… either way it suited the material).

The tiny room had almost the same atmosphere as, say, a room in a haunted house or a club in the early hours of the morning. In other words it was ideally set up for “a savage journey into the heart of the American dream”, or to you and me, a tale about drugs and the lost generation of the 70s.

The set was simple but very well designed. In the left-hand corner sat our narrator, an older Hunter S., his typewriter sitting on a messy desk in front of him and various Fear and Loathing paraphernalia peeling off the walls above. On a shelf by his head was the instantly recognisable green visor, and behind him there was a fantastic neon “WELCOME to Fabulous LAS VEGAS” sign.

The backdrop was a projection of various Ralph Steadman drawings, Steadman being the original illustrator for the book. In fact there was, and this is part of the reason why I went too, an exhibition in an adjacent room of Steadman’s artwork. The exhibition included new material and made a good distraction during the interval. Then, very cleverly, they had created the centrepiece of the set from scratch — the red car in which Hunter and Dr. Gonzo race through the Nevada desert. I think this was possibly made of papier-mâché? And unbelievably the car flipped over and turned into, wait for it, a bed, so that a seamless scene change between the desert and the hotel room was possible.

During the interval we also found some time to explore some of the other rooms. There was one with Fear and Loathing themed food and drinks such as Mexican style nachos and burritos. The whole place was very dark so it really did feel like you were in some kind of underground cavern. There were strange decorations / art installations dotted around the place too, such as a model train suspended from the ceiling complete with fluffy cotton wool flowing from the chimney.

As you can probably tell all of this made an impression on me. I will definitely be back. I will need a companion again though because it’s blatantly going to be too creepy to go it alone.

This year’s festival runs from January 28th – March 8th 2015.

Update: if you missed the festival this year don’t despair, there are lots of other great events. Time Out have a very positive write up about the latest offering “Alice in Wonderland”:


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