Roman emperor Caligula has provided numerous artists with inspiration, and this year’s Vault Five artist Yuxuan Liu is no different. He has devised a new interpretation of Caligula’s story particularly focusing on the ruler’s megalomania, his queerness, and a bargain he made with Neptune as a young man in exile on Capri. Puppetry and set design effectively complement the script, and the prominent theme of nature’s power resonates strongly in the context of the climate crisis.
The stage is flooded in red light, ‘angry-chick’ music plays, and four women (Rachel Ferguson, Kirby Merner, Léonie Crawford and Chloe Pidhoreckyj) are eating what looks like chorizo slices with their faces pierced by disgust, fear, sadness, and anger. I feel like I might be watching the B+15 rated version of Pixars’ Inside Out, specifically the inside of an angry, feminist cannibal. Just when I wonder where Joy is, a frenzied character bursts in (Daisy Kelly, also the playwright), bringing some more food that the group rejects. We discover that it’s the flesh of a banker they’re eating, supposedly as a stand against capitalism. Violet, who kindled the revolutionary spark but is now sat silently, is forced to confess that it was not her rebellious spirit that inspired her but an episode of sexual harassment from the banker, also her former boss.
In some of the recent popular discourse on the abuse that pollutes the theatre industry, hierarchies and the power they bestow on those at the top have – rightly – been criticised. A rehearsal room mostly populated by freelancers, but run by a single salaried person on staff with the production company or venue, creates a massive power imbalance that can be weaponised. Of course, many rehearsal processes are steered by good people who don’t exploit their position, but in my 20+ years of working in theatre, I’ve rarely seen these hierarchies dismantled, either partially or fully, when the production company operates with one in place. Power is clearly and consistently utilised, with the person in charge easily visible at all times.
Jacob Zuma, the retired president of South Africa, is in hospital for some tests. On checking into his room he discovers his nemesis, former Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, in the room opposite. The two men have a long and complex history that unfolds over the course of Gail Louw’s play as a dialogue-driven wrestling match. Though their relationship has plenty of material to fuel discussions and augments about revolution, women, race and South Africa’s history, the plot meanders through topics rather than telling a cohesive story. Strong performances make this an engaging production minute-by-minute, but the overall result is not satisfying.
It’s 2019 and we’re in purgatory. Some (many?) might say hell, considering the late capitalist nightmare and and rise of right-wing extremism, but Gertrude, former Queen of Denmark, has assured us we’ve arrived in purgatory and will shortly be assigned to our own, personal patches of dusty, red rock.
Have you ever heard of Gideon Mantell? We hadn’t. But this multi-role telling of the life of the Sussex-based Victorian doctor and amateur geologist, whose discovery of the Iguanodon instigated relentless conflicts with the Church of England, is a compelling, musical story of a man willing to lose everything in the fight for scientific progress.
Lou and Jaz have met on Tinder and are going on a date. A simple premise, but in its use of different narratives, Greyscale highlights the complexities of relationships, sexual power and personal communication.
In the ancient city of Babylon, people lived peacefully. They were left to their own devices until, according to a biblical story, they built a tower that reached to the heavens. Then, a vengeful god destroyed it and scattered the citizens around the world bestowing them different languages so they could no longer communicate. For language and peace are power, and power threatens those in charge.
Bobby’s a bright, enterprising young man, so when his dad demands he get a job and do something with his life other than get stoned, he does. Desperate to impress his elders but with little sense for his actions’ consequences, Bobby’s series of bad decisions leads to catastrophe. But this new play, laden with thematic complexity, cuts the story short before it has the chance to fully resonate.