Writer: Barry McStay
Director: Lucy Jane Atkinson
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Making full use of dark, dank tunnels under Waterloo station, Vespertilio is a touching study of the last remaining greater mouse-eared bat in the UK, and two other lonely creatures. It’s proved to be one of the highlights of VAULT Festival so far.
Alan is the guardian of this solitary bat, and when he goes to check that it has returned to hibernate in a disused train tunnel near Chichester he finds a runaway boy curled up in the corner. Both are surprised, but Josh, despite his youth, is more quick-witted and streetwise than Alan, who pompously and endearingly tries to carry out a citizen’s arrest.
Josh is intrigued with the awkward older man, seemingly as lonely and secluded as the bat that he cares for. The next day Josh goes to hear Alan speak about the nocturnal mammals at a public lecture, and he is attracted by the expert’s passion. Alan, on the other hand, is mesmerised by Josh’s confidence and forthrightness. Alan asks Josh home. Could these two loners find a lasting union, one that which evades the bat in its cave?
Even though the main theme of this play is loneliness, Barry McStay’s script is very funny with lots of intergenerational confusion about Harry Potter and jokes about Batman. The two characters are fully developed, but perhaps for a 60-minute play they have too much backstory. The partnership between the men is so engaging that we want to see how it progresses into the future. Joshua Oakes-Rogers, who plays Josh, is a revelation here. With his South London patois and his loose limbs it’s easy to see how Alan falls for him. Benedict Salter plays the older man with great sensitivity, his guard gradually coming down.
VAULT regular Lucy Jane Atkinson directs with imagination, making sure that the story is key here, and that the pace never dips, even during the play’s quieter scenes. Zia Bergin-Holly’s light design and Verity Johnson’s set are both sympathetic to the creeping desolation at the script’s edges, with some scenes being lit only by torches, while Alan’s house, staged in traverse, is cloistered by squat desk lamps.
With a melancholic sound design by Annie May Fletcher, Vespertilio is the real deal, and it could easily transfer in the same way as Atkinson’s play from last year’s festival, A Hundred Words For Snow, which opens at The Trafalgar Studios next week. It fits so perfectly in the VAULT’s Cavern that the creative team should be on the hunt for more disused railway tunnels for future productions.
Runs until 24 February 2019 | Image: Contributed