We’re just over halfway through the VAULT Festival and already there have been some standout LGBTQ+ plays such as the dark Kompromat, based on the unsolved murder of Gareth Williams, the ‘gay spy’, and Velvet which told the story of a young actor catfished by a casting agent. The Reviews Hub’s Richard Maguire talked to three of the people behind three queer plays opening this week at the VAULT; Martin Malcolm, Lucy Jane Atkinson and Lucy Roslyn.
Martin Malcolm is the writer of Warped, a tale of two young men who seek to style themselves on the Kray twins from the 60s. The media turned the two gangsters into glamorous celebrities, and film stars and musicians such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland flocked to the nightclubs in the West End that the Krays owned. Even though the two men were violent and responsible for three murders, they are revered as stylish figures and this image is perpetuated by films such as the sexy The Krays, in which the twins were played by the Kemp brothers from the band Spandau Ballet, and Legend, in which Tom Hardy played both Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
The two men in Martin’s play model themselves on the Krays, but is it possible to obtain that glamour in 2019? Also, things become a little tense between the two men, as one is starting to fall in love with the other. Set in a room above a pub, Warpedinterrogates the reasons why the Krays are remembered as heroes, or even as Martin suggests, gay icons, despite the fact that only Ronnie was gay or bisexual. If there’s a moral to the play, Martin attests it is ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ The young man’s love is unrequited and perhaps fuelled by the lure of self-destruction.
This twisty and sexy thriller is being presented in the Cavern, the VAULT Festival’s most atmospheric space. As the name suggests, it’s cavernous, its corners not quite visible, and the rumble of trains is an almost constant white noise. Despite the Cavern’s size, Warped will be staged intimately, with the darkness beyond representing the dark relationship between the two men. It seems the Cavern is the perfect venue.
Also exploiting the singular atmosphere of the Cavern this week is Vespertilio, another play about the relationship between two men. Indeed, Vespertilio could be played nowhere else. The show gets its name from a genus of bats, and one of these bats is the focus of this play about loneliness. There is only one greater mouse-eared bat in Britain, and every winter it goes to hibernate in a disused railway tunnel in Sussex. Always returning without a mate, it’s thought that this bat will spend the rest of its life alone.
The playwright Barry McStay was fascinated by this sad story and pitched the idea to director Lucy Jane Atkinson while the pair was walking across Primrose Hill. Lucy has been a regular at the VAULT Festival over the years and her play from 2018, A Hundred Words For Snow, is transferring to the Trafalgar Studios next month. After hearing McStay’s ideas, Lucy made sure that they could produce Vespertilio in the Cavern; in short, it’s site-specific.
Played in traverse, it tells the story of the man whose job it is to care for the bat when it returns to its tunnel. But one day when he enters, he finds another lonely creature hidden in its depths, a runaway boy. Over the course of a week, we see the two men develop a relationship, both believing that they, like the bat, are destined for a life alone. Could they get the happy ending that the greater mouse-eared bat will never receive?
Another complicated relationship is seen in Lucy Roslyn’s Orlando also opening at the Festival this week. Lucy is keen to point out that her play is not a retelling of Virginia Woolf’s novel but a response to its limitless possibilities. Published in 1928, Orlando is thought to be the first trans novel in the history of English Literature. It tells the story of an immortal human who is gendered male in the reign of Elizabeth I and after a transformation in Turkey continues as a woman with the book ending in 1928. Orlando is happy, married to another whose gender, too, is unpredictable.
Woolf wrote the book as a love letter for Vita Sackville-West, her lover for over ten years. Incidentally, a new film, Vita and Virginia, opens this year’s BFI Flare LGBTQ+ film festival, but Lucy’s play is set in the present time and is about a woman trying to give some kind of gift to her lover. Woolf gave Sackville-West a novel, but can the woman in the play match this token of love? Also, can we shed the labels of the present day like gay/straight/male/female and live freely like Orlando?
Lucy has performed one-person plays before but this is the first time that she has performed a character so close to her self. And in the play, we will see her desire that identity could be unbound and ‘could mean any number of things’. She also explains that her play is about the desire for eloquence in a world where it’s hard to find the right words. Orlando plays in the Pit, another evocative space under Waterloo Station.
Warped, Vespertilioand Orlando are not the only LGBTQ+ plays at the VAULT this week. If you want your fill of queer plays also check out the teasingly entitled Smoke Weed Eat Pussy Every Day, which plays for two days only. It’s another bumper week at the VAULT Festival!
Warped, Vespertilioand Orlando runs until 24 February 2019 | Smoke Weed and Eat Pussy EveryDayruns 22 and 23 February 2019| Vault Festival continues until 17 March 2019