By Stephen Powdrill
If anyone ever thought theatre was dead and buried, in a technological age of Netflixers and channel flickers – think again. VAULT 17 is very much buzzing with life right under our feet. Early 2012 – that dreaded year prophesied to see the end of the world - instead brought us something undoubtedly better in the birth of VAULT festival and the start of an exciting new chapter in the London art scene. Burrowed away within a graphiti-clad, abandoned tunnel under Waterloo Station, VAULT began as a quest to discover new, emerging theatre-makers and share their budding talent and ideas with the masses. Now in the festival's 5th year, we have seen shows ranging from improvised comedy routines to zany, immersive acid raves to grippingly emotive one-man-shows held in a grungy yet magical caravan a few minutes off-site.
Take those, with weekend independent film marathons, international food served fresh from the VAULT kitchens and the 'EscapeMobile' – a challenge in which the more adventurous types hunt for clues to find their way out of a Harry Houdini-themed van – and you really do have a festival that caters for all. Deciding to host this eclectic blend of 200 shows within six weeks was a financial gamble and 'a bit bonkers', according to Mat Burt, one of the founders of VAULT. 'It was a risk, financially and career-wise, and remains so every year', he says, but maintains that he and the team at VAULT were achieving something that they had always wanted by making theatre more affordable for audiences and creating a supportive platform for new companies. The success of the festival - growing from a humble footfall of 7,000 in the first year (of VAULT) to 10,000 revellers attending in only the first week of their 5th anniversary – is down to a careful combination of 'patience, hard work and kindness'. Kindness may seem a little out of the blue to the more corporate-minded reader, however, Burt tells me that the festival is a social project that aims to 'create an environment that benefits everyone, not just one group of people'. Giving opportunity for talented yet perhaps inexperienced companies to perform, maintaining low ticket prices and providing their staff with free workshops, tickets to shows and one-to-one sessions with industry professionals, demonstrate the sort of accommodating behaviour that Burt professes make up the foundation of VAULT. 'It's about proving you don't need to have sharp elbows and a 'me-first attitude to succeed,' he remarks, emphasising that this kind of accessibility into the creative industry is exactly what makes VAULT so special. Now in the final third of the six-week festival, there are still a vast array of things to see and even take part in, if you so please.
Looking for a good night out? Friday and Saturday night (24th and 25th Feb) offer 'London's biggest, baddest Mardi Gras party', sure to be a crazy, colour-fuelled, late-night carnival of excess, taking over the VAULTS from 10.30pm, with the all the vibrancy and spectacle that New Orleans could ever offer. Only have fifteen minutes spare from your hectic social schedule? VAULT's got you sorted. The Caravan Shorts continue for it's third week serving up a variety of thought-provoking, humorous and sometimes heartbreaking stories on wheels to small, intimate audiences of nine. If there were ever a time to get out of the house, brace the cold winter winds of February and experience some life-changing performances, it is now – catch a glimpse of VAULT's diverse fusion of all the artistic talent London has to offer before it's too late.