It’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon in London, but venture underground… and something amazing is about to happen.
At 6pm, in just a couple of hours time, The Vaults, in the bowels of Waterloo station will open their doors and the Vault Festival will get underway for another year. With over 300 shows across the 8 weeks, it’s the biggest UK Theatre festival of it’s kind after the Edinburgh fringe in the Summer and it’s happening beneath our feet.
I am sat in the shelter of the Southbank Centre with Nicole Acquah (Nikki) who’s play For A Black Girl, which she wrote and stars in, has the honour of an opening slot tonight.
“I’m excited!” She exclaims, with an unsuppressable grin. “I have been nervous, but maybe now, because we have been working on it so much… We’re ready”. The play has already made the top spot of The Stage‘s roundup of ‘the best shows to see in week one’, as well as securing a spot in the Evening Standard’s ‘10 shows you have to see‘ across the whole festival. The buzz around the show is only fuelling her excitement.
Flash-back to last year, and she was here as another audience member, her play still in the earliest stages of development. After thinking about it “for years” it all came together in “three days”, three days spent in her room “not eating, drinking, sleeping…”. In just three days her culmination of personal experience, the experiences of friends and scouring newspapers became For A Black Girl. “It’s not linear” she explains, it’s built from “different stories and experiences”, experiences that take place all around us but are rarely shared.
After a first showing at the Central School of Speech and Drama early last year, where the company This Is It Theatre are all recent graduates, a successful application was made in the Summer to stage the show at Vault. The application process favours the “bravest” and “most creative” in the mix. Some, like The Guild of Misrule who brought Gatsby to Vault last year, are returning companies whilst others like Nikki’s are here for the first time. There is a real, intoxicating mix of experience, but is there competition? “Everyone here is really friendly” she observes with a grin, and sure enough, companies are discussing each others shows as they tactfully bill their shows around the venue, coveting the best spots but ensuring everyone gets a space. “The atmosphere just feels amazing… walking in… it’s just a really cool space”.
The venue consists of a series of arches beneath the railway tracks above. The musty, dampness of the cavernous space, previously only used for storage by Network Rail, only adds to the underground atmosphere of the festival. Some are small enough that just wooden benches are lined like pews in a strange, secret church. This Is It have secured one of the larger spaces with raked seating, but just what can their audience expect tonight?
“Expect to be challenged”, she nods. “But it is satirical… it is funny as well as serious subject matter”.
Running simultaneously are shows featuring murder, eating disorders… and Donald Trump. Vault certainly does not shy away from serious subject matter, but there are comedies too! And Food. And Drink. And later on, dancing. What more could you possibly need? Nikki and I are fantasising about hibernating underground for the duration and emerging as Spring arrives when she checks her watch… there’s just time for a short nap before it all kicks off! An opportunity she is not going to pass up…
So there is nothing left to say but… “See you underground!”
You can see For a Black Girl at The Vault Festival from Wednesday 24th to Sunday 28th January at 6pm, on Saturday 27th a matinee also plays at 15:45. Find out more and book at Vaultfestival.com.