This year’s VAULT Festival promises to be the most diverse ever with 35% of shows coming from LGBTQ+ artists. Of course, it’s impossible to cover every LBGTQ+ show, but in a regular feature, The Reviews Hub’s Richard Maguire will interview some of creatives behind a selection of these shows. Coming up in Week One of the VAULT Festival are shows by Ayden Brouwers, Nathaniel Hall and Simon David.
Ayden’s show is called Sound Cistem, a clever pun on sound system, and Cis, the word now commonly used for people who identity with the gender they were assigned at birth. Taking place in a nightclub, Sound Citsem examines the problems that trans people face when they go out to party. Ayden explained that while the club scene could be described as utopic and liberating it is also dangerous, especially for trans people.
Ayden is part of a company called Plaster Cast Theatre, and they interviewed many trans people about their experiences in clubland. The recordings of these interviews will be played over a bespoke techno beat with Ayden and fellow performer Lizzie Morris responding to the words with dance and physical movement. Although they don’t speak themselves, Ayden and Lizzie speak with their bodies. Sound Cistem seeks to give back agency to those trans people who have been threatened or attacked in clubs.
Despite the challenging subject material, parts of the show are uplifting too, and Ayden hopes that the 10.10pm slot that they’ve been given will inspire people to go out clubbing afterwards. In a way Sound Cistem could be seen as a pre-party for trans and Cis people alike. They have just finished a run of shows at HOME in Manchester, which also helped with development, and now Ayden and Lizzie are looking forward to bringing Sound Cistem to London. It’s celebration of trans and non-binary people. And with the music turned up, a loud one too.
Also bringing difficult ideas to the VAULT Festival’s first week is Nathaniel Hall who talks about how he contracted HIV in his play First Time. As the title suggests, Nathaniel caught the virus in his first sexual encounter. He was 16 at the time, and because of the shame and stigma connected to HIV/AIDS, he told very few people. Even though HIV can be managed by combination therapy, a regimen of daily pills, there are still health issues, mental as well as physical, connected to being HIV positive.
Many say that with the antiretroviral drugs, we live in a postAIDS world, an idea that angers Nathaniel as in other countries the pills are too expensive for some people to buy, and although the rates of HIV infection in Britain are falling, it is still a taboo subject in both the gay and the straight worlds. In First Time, Nathaniel relates his own story, and how he used alcohol and recreational drugs to deal with the shame of being HIV. But one day, after a heavy night in 2017, he realised that he had to tell his family about his condition.
Coming out every evening at the VAULT Festival as gay, and then as HIV+, is still a brave stand, even in 2020. Nathaniel says, that in a way, it’s easier to come out on stage than it is in real life, as the stage offers a kind of safety net. However, within this autobiographical tale are other stories, which he believes are more universal ones: coming-of-age, parental love. First Time was a great success in Edinburgh last summer, and it’s sure to be a hit in London too. Straight after the Festival Nathaniel heads on a UK tour.
Another show discussing parental love is Simon David’s Over My Dad’s Body, a camp celebration of his father’s life. Simon’s father died of cancer, but as he was dying he performed his own one-man-show called, simply and straightforwardly, Not Long Now. Simon never saw the performance live, as he was working on his own show, but knew that one of his dad’s performances was being filmed and so arranged with his family to watch a screening together. However, the day before the screening, Simon’s father died. But Simon and his family still attended the screening.
Over My Dad’s Body tells the story with humour, and music. Also the audience will be able to watch part of the film Not Long Now, and so father and son will be performing in the same show. Alongside this story, Simon will also discuss his 2016 show Virgin where he describes himself as ‘an Unpopped Cherry.’ The show was a hit, but one critic gave it a two star review. This review makes it way in Simon’s new show, which, in a flourish of metatheatricality, he says is a show about a show about show.
Simon doesn’t see his piece as an act of mourning, neither an elegy nor a eulogy. Instead, he sees the piece as slowing down the grieving process in order that he can relive and extend the moments with his father. And yet, despite the sadness in Over My Dad’s Body, Simon promises that there will be laughs too and great pop songs. More importantly it will be camp: Simon says, it’s just the way he operates.
Already, in the first week at the VAULT Festival, there is real diversity, and diversity in the LGBTQ+ shows themselves. Thought-provoking and celebratory, Sound Cistem, First Time and Over My Dad’s Body are three shows not to miss.
Sound Cistem runs until 6 February 2020
First Time runs until 2 February 2020
Over My Dad’s Body runs until 1 February 2020
The VAULT Festival runs from 28 January to 22 March