VAULT Festival Round-Up: Fcuk’d, Exactly Like You, Fran and Leni and Balancing Acts

Niall Ransome, star of Fcuk’d, which continues at Morley College – a short distance from the VAULTs – until February 2.

2016 may have been a less than exemplary year for the world at large, but it was an excellent year for the VAULT Festival. The arts festival, held at the cavernous Vaults in Leake Street, expanded significantly, massively growing their programme and reaching an attendance of 40,00. The festival’s reputation as a destination for cutting-edge independent theatre – London’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe – now seems unassailable, and on the basis of 2017’s crop the festival is in very rude health. 

Sonderlust Theatre’s Fcuk’d in Morley College studio on Westminster Bridge Road – tells the story of a teenager and his brother on the run from the authorities, who want to take the younger brother into care. From the very beginning, this fast-paced, emotionally wrought and intensely lyrical one-man show kept me gripped. Niall Ransome makes a compelling turn in this play written entirely in verse, and the tension is perfectly pitched, slowly building to breaking point. Sharp stabs of music heighten the suspense further (the score is minimal, featuring a flute, viola and cello.)

As Niall has eloquently said in an interview with The New Current“I feel a lot of the time our generation can be underrepresented, we have decisions made for us… The characters in this play definitely feel abandoned by a system. It fails to recognise their situation and the people it directly affects. They have no voice to express themselves.” Niall’s character paints a vivid picture of life on his council estate, giving a voice to the usually voiceless.

Another one-person show written entirely in verse, Exactly Like You, which finished on the 29th, came to the VAULT Festival following rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s an energetic portrait of what it means to be alone and directionless in London, at times funny, at times deeply sad. Lotte Rice, writer and star, takes the audience on a sweeping journey through her love affair with the music of Nina Simone, from days as a child listening to Simone at her grandmother’s place to her obsession with her songs into adulthood.

Reflecting on the mundanity of her life on her way to a job she detests, Lotte’s character suddenly hears, loud and clear, Nina Simone’s singing in her head; from this moment onwards Simone alternately sings to, and appears, before her in various moments. Lotte’s character wonders whether these appearances of Simone in the guise of ‘spiritual guide’ is proof that she’s losing her mind.

There are many lows Lotte’s character goes through – including losing her job – but ultimately the story she tells is redemptive and hopeful. This is a beautifully drawn, unique and personal play. Even if you are not a fan of Nina Simone, I defy you to leave unmoved by Lotte’s perfomance.

“I was born punk. But she was my rock. The only one I ever had.” Old Trunk’s Fran and Leni, which also finished on the 29th and was written by co-founder Sadie Hasler, tells the story of two soul sisters who meet in a school in 1976 and go on to form the punk band The Rips. This play succeeds in capturing the great excitement of punk, as well as its playful side, while also covering some dark material – including child abuse, terminal illness and murder – in a very short span of time.

There is slightly too much going on here for the dark moments to hit home with as much power as they could – and, at certain points, the script also lags a little. Nonetheless, the bond between Fran and Leni is skillfully portrayed and the anarchic appeal of punk resoundingly makes itself felt.

Finally, Balancing Acts – performed by Kaleido Film Collective in collaboration with Feral Foxy Ladies – tackled the taboo subject of depression. Interspersing six real-life accounts of depression with visuals, music and movement, it’s a bleak, but ultimately cathartic show. Six people from different backgrounds and of various ages tell their stories about dealing with depression and their own ‘balancing act’ – their method of coping – ranging from deep sea diving to sex, poetry and song, boxing, painting and performing.

Although painful and difficult to listen to, the brave and intimate telling of these stories becomes a healing process. The ‘balancing acts’ help each individual to cope, proving that there can be a glimmer of hope even in the darkness of depression. Tony, whose balancing act is poetry and song, says that joining a community choir ‘saved him’ – and the feeling that generally comes across is that without their own coping mechanism, each individual would be in a far worse position. I deeply admire Katherine Vince for having the courage to physically interpret and tell these stories on the stage, and finally her own story, with ‘performing’ as her balancing act.

Ana Malinovic

About Ana Malinovic

Ana graduated from Warwick University with a BA in English and American Literature in 2010. Her dissertation was centred on dystopian elements in the fiction of Kafka. She enjoys uncovering innovative works of fiction by a diverse range of authors. She also spends much of her time roaming around London's arts and culture scene overexcitedly. Check out her blog

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