Review – Descent Promenade Shorts at The Vaults Waterloo

Towards the end of the diverse Vault festival came Descent Promenade Shorts, four short dramas by new writers, performed in the dark and damp caves underneath Waterloo station.

The evening did not get off to the most promising start as the audience was split into three groups by overbearing and unfriendly ushers, who demanded gruffly that we arrange ourselves into shapes (an isosceles triangle for my group), but our little group at least became united in collective disdain for these rude members of staff. As the evening went on and the ushers took us to our various locations, it transpired that they were performing their own short drama too, and their rudeness was part of their performance.

After this inauspicious start our group was led to Dis/Connect – a simple dialogue between two fairly odious students sitting on a sofa. But things became exponentially better from there. Our second performance was The Roof by Jessica McKenna, a dark and gripping dialogue set on the roof of a hospital. Charlie’s mum is in a serious condition and he pours out his mental anguish to Casper, all the while perched precariously on the precipitous edge of the hospital roof. The setting, in a grimy service area underneath Waterloo station, created a perfect sense of the unseen areas of a hospital and complemented the mood of the play – grim and intense.  The audience stands around the edge of the small performance space, their faces right up against Charlie as he tells Casper about his troubled past and his uncertain future. Being in a hospital usually means bad news, and the heightened drama of the hospital setting comes through very well – dark, intense stuff from a young writer.

Vault Festival WaterlooThe grim mood did not let up as we moved on to performance three – Hole by Duncan Gates. It is a Roald Dahlesque short story read aloud to the audience about a school caving trip that goes wrong, unrelentingly macabre and unapologetically upsetting. Again, being in an actual damp and dimly lit cave added greatly to the description of the caving trip. Ed Yelland as Andre delivers the monologue brilliantly, making uncomfortable eye contact with the members of the audience clustered tightly around him in the dark.

Finally, all the groups reconvened for Everything Happens in the Starlight Lounge by Ben Francis, a futuristic sci-fi tale that would make an excellent Doctor Who episode: Rex and Judith stand in a bar watching a reality TV show about two astronauts. The astronauts themselves are trying to decide how much of what they are doing has been staged for television – are they even in space? Judith and Rex care little for the drama on TV, it’s just another reality show to them. A run-down MDF bar comprised the Starlight Lounge set, while the spaceship had some old tube train seats in all their 70s orange and brown patterned glory. The grubby design added a visually brilliant element to a compelling dystopian satire.

Despite a juddering start, the immersive evening had many strong points and showed that there is some exciting young writing talent and plenty to look forward to in theatre’s future.

To find out more about Descent click here.

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