It’s been eight years since the Vault Festival, London’s scrappiest, most sprawling arts festival, began. And this year there are eight whole weeks of it. A ridiculous number of shows are on offer between 28 January and 22 March this year, and you can see everything from new work by new voices to Edinburgh success stories and works-in-progress from established talent. Here is a selection of shows you won’t want to miss.
Papercut Theatre approaches mental health in a refreshingly honest way, by telling the story of Lou, who is struggling. A bracing reminder of the complexities and pain of living with mental illness and the realities of how it affects those around us.
11 to 16 February
Direct from Hong Kong, this piece offers a look at the theatre and performance art made by UK based Hong Kong and British East Asian artists during the protests. An up-to-the-minute perspective on a global event.
10 to 15 March
Teddy Lamb’s show ran at Edinburgh Festival in 2019 and its glittering, messy, pop-heavy story about losing best friends and growing up queer in the mid-noughties is an absolute charmer.
4 to 9 February
An immersive experience set in Nineties and Noughties teenage bedrooms with original live music from Rosie Doonan and a smattering of agony aunts. The Paper Birds asked young people to write and ask the company anything. One hundred letters came in from across the UK, and this piece is what the company have to say in response.
11 to 16 February
Based on interviews with queer women in Trinidad & Tobago, Splintered explores what it means to be queer in a culture that doesn’t accept you. Lagahoo is a New Diorama Theatre Emerging Company (always a sign of promise) and a Soho Theatre Young Company to boot. This is the company’s inaugural show, so catch it here first.
12 to 16 February
There are quite a few mother-daughter relationship pieces at the festival this year, but Isabelle Kabban’s story about living with a mother with bipolar stands out from the crowd. All-female theatre company SpeakUp presents the story of Izzy, who is having to face the fact that her mum is not very well. It’s a simple, tenderly told show where Kabban’s distress is expressed through arm-wringing gestures set to heavy metal music as her mother becomes increasingly distant and impassive.
14 to 16 February
A physical theatre performance which aims to ignite your inner passion for the NHS. Rosa’s Assembly has curated a verbatim text that explores the history of nurses working for our healthcare system. Set in 2030, it looks back as well as forward to the NHS’s future.
8 February and 15 February
Catch a piece at its very earliest stages. Hot is running on two dates, one in February that’s a rehearsed reading, one in March that’s a script-in-hand scratch performance. Richard Marsh is one of the writers behind Dirty Great Love Story and this new piece is an action-adventure romance about our world getting hotter.
2 February, 22 March
Theatre company The Thelmas is dedicated to creating stories outside the traditional BAME stereotype and aims to empower women to redress the equality imbalance in the arts. This piece focuses on best friends Santi and Naz who are living in a small village in pre-partition India in 1945 and 1949. It sounds refreshing and intriguing.
28 Jan to 2 February
Take Care uses verbatim text taken from interviews, press releases and public speeches to tell of the struggle carers face through the real-life story of Pam, who is trying to get her mother into a care home closer to her. Take Care was a hit at Edinburgh last year and at Vault Festival there’s a chance for an informal post-show discussion after each show.
10 to 15 March
Exploring the boundaries of nation-states, Dual دوگانه tells the story of Peyvvand, who travels from London to Iran when she is ten to meet her family for the first time. Expect drag, puppetry and poetry in the story of what happens when Peyvvand is finally allowed back into Britain. Peyvand Sadeghian has worked with Javaad Alipoor and is a promising emerging voice in theatre.
19 to 23 February
Jon Brittain’s five-star play Rotterdam opened up stories of transitioning in such an accessible way and won an Olivier Award too. Here Brittain is directing Emmerdale star Ash Palmisciano as he discovers what lad culture really means. The work in progress piece is co-written by Brittain and Palmisciano and should be a treat.
13 to 15 March
Another piece from The Thelmas, this one is a solo show about A.A, who arrives in Dublin from Eastern Europe and spirals into sleeping rough. It’s a story of xenophobia and mental health and draws on the experiences of writer and actor Danaja Wass. A bracing exploration of some very pertinent themes for today.
19 to 23 February
A new piece from new company Magna, which tells the story of Alex, who is navigating the territory of gender. Part stand-up gig, part play, this is about trying to find your identity in a world obsessed by tick-boxes. Actor and musician Anna Wheatley and director Jessica Daniels (Girl from the North Country) have some intriguing previous experience between them, so Beige could be the beginning of a dynamic new company.
25 February to 1 March