'Descent' live at VAULT (17 Feb '12, Waterloo) // Words: Lauren Johnson-Ginn // Photos: viveashphotography.co.uk
Created by London-based theatre company OTB Productions, 'Descent' is an exciting showcase of new writing that aims to provide a platform for “young, undiscovered voices”. I went down to the VAULT Festival on 17th February at the Old Vic Tunnels to find out what these voices were saying, and discovered a few promising gems.
Hosted by fidgety (and funny) rising stand-up comedian Tom Rosenthal, the evening consisted of four short plays, interspersed with some less funny audience participation segments. The set was minimal, with just a couple of tables, a worn-looking cabinet and harsh lighting creating a spartan atmosphere.
The first play, 'Babies' by Ben Coren, appeared to be set in a dystopian, overpopulated future, in which couples are forced to go through a series of rigorous cross-examinations before being granted permission to have a baby together. These interrogations become increasingly hostile; as it emerges that one half of the couple in question is considered a more suitable candidate for parenthood than the other.
Exploring themes of loyalty, betrayal and the perils of overzealous state control, the play had an interesting concept and some excellent moments, including stellar displays of spiteful passive-aggression from Sarah Langrish-Smith in the role of ‘inquisitor’. However, I felt that the ending was slightly abrupt and unsatisfying, as though the play hadn’t quite managed to convey its message – perhaps this could be resolved with a few more scenes.
Next up was 'Closure' by Dave Florez, an exhilarating and hilarious portrait of the cutthroat sales industry. The action centred on two salesmen – one, hapless, timid and far too ethical, the other an unscrupulous, sexist and aggressive alpha male.
Played by Sahil Batra and Tom Moores respectively, these two salesmen engage in what becomes an absurdly heated 101 in ‘how to close a deal’, complete with physical demonstrations, crude analogies and a brilliant role reversal at the climax. The lead actors had excellent chemistry and comic delivery, and I have to give particular praise to Moores for his intense performance. Florez’s dialogue was sharp, clever and fast-paced, making this a hugely enjoyable and accomplished piece.
The third play, 'Love Organ', left me mystified. At the start of the piece, we’re introduced to two young lovers, who have been conducting a secret affair and are now looking forward to a legitimate relationship.
After an earnest reunion, they launch into an odd (but nicely choreographed) dance routine, and the play ends suddenly after another burst of dialogue and dancing. Like much of the audience (judging by the confused murmurs around me), I felt slightly nonplussed by the ending – unsure whether to clap or wait for the next scene. The story seemed disjointed and incomplete, but perhaps I’m just not ready for experimental theatre.
Mercifully, the final play, 'Health And Safety' by Rebecca Walker, was a return to more conventional modes of storytelling. Set in an oppressively boring shopping centre health and safety department, it focuses on the banal routine of two employees, who are tasked with protecting the public from everyday hazards. However, events take a decidedly more sinister turn as their repressed desires for excitement start to manifest in their work.
Paul Heath and Clare Buckingham were both fantastic in their roles, with Heath thoroughly convincing as the middle-aged action movie fantasist and Buckingham equally compelling as an unhinged, undercover architect of chaos. Both actors displayed great comic delivery, doing justice to the highly original, entertaining and amusing script.
After having the pleasure of watching these short plays, I think I can conclude that the future of UK drama is certainly bright, if not necessarily orange. 'Descent' is a regular event held at venues throughout London, so check the OTB Productions website for upcoming shows.
Find more info on VAULT at thevaultfestival.com.