The Subterranean Season, VAULT Festival

by guest critic Jo Trainor

A calcification called Danny Dyer, porn, truffle oil and guitar guns – PLAY Theatre company are back at the VAULT Festival after winning the People’s Choice Award last year. The Subterranean Season comprises of four writer/director teams and ten actors putting on a series of short performances. Although each of the four plays are independent, and different in substance and style, the patchwork production doesn’t feel jarring or disconnected. The energy on stage and the skill of the writers make The Subterranean Season a cohesive performance.

Play 25 seems to be a step behind the other three shows in some ways, however. After having paid a lot of money, given up all their gadgets and agreed to refrain from sex, Eleanor and Leo find out they’re sharing a room in what we assume is a rehabilitation centre. The problem with it is that there are three big unanswered questions for so short a piece of theatre. What kind of rehab are they in? How long are they for? Why have they paid money to be there? And then all of a sudden it ends with them dancing. Both actors create an oppressive atmosphere as they suffer from cabin fever, but the audience would be better equipped to go along with them if they were given more information.

One cardboard box and four musicians desperately trying to squeeze themselves into it; Play 24 was definitely the stand out piece of the evening. Aisha Zia’s production was largely absurdist, as a mostly wordless beginning of music turns into a search for accommodation. Anyone who has ever gone through the incredibly challenging process of trying to find somewhere to live in London will find 24 painfully funny as all four actors physically climb over each other to get a room in Peckham. It’s clearly for good reason that they’re called PLAY, because all of the actors put it at the centre of their performance. There’s barely a moment in 24 when you’re not laughing and the physicality and direction is a big part of that.

The only regret this reviewer had after seeing The Subterranean Season was that I hadn’t seen the previous 22 plays – new writing bites that are brought to life brilliantly.

The Subterranean Season runs through 5 March.

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