I think in London it’s easy to become tenaciously obsessed with finding secret places that others might not have yet discovered, to try and clutch a bit of the city close to your chest for a while before it vanishes again or gets over-exposed and guest list only.
I’ve wanted to go exploring the Old Vic Tunnels since I heard about them opening last year. The tunnels run undernearth Waterloo train station and used to belong to British Rail (remnants of this fact can still be spotted by the eagle-eyed visitor, like old abandoned lockers and dreary staff toilets) but since 2010 the space has been reclaimed and used to host various theatre productions, events and gigs.
When you appear dazed out of tube and head out into the dark from Waterloo station don’t be alarmed when you have to vanish into the dodgiest, dankest looking subway you’ve ever seen – as the entrance is just down the steps. The tunnels have been decorated enough to make them feel cosy (candles and chintzy lamps) but also have enough original features to make it feel like somewhere you shouldn’t really be. There is a central tunnel, with ominous vast doors leading off into various rooms. One of the rooms is a fully fitted cinema screening room, complete with red velvet chairs; the perfect spooky enclosure for its recent run of Hammer Horror movies but outside festival-time the screening room is programmed and run entirely by the Old Vic Tunnels volunteer scheme.
As well as all the ticketed fun stuff occuring, there is also a huge bar area. On the recent date night that my boyfriend partner in crime and I ventured in there was a great band performing, massively cheap drinks (£2.50 for a spirit and mixer) and tons of sofas to sink into in the dim lighting, as we chatted away over the roar of the trains clattering above us. OH and there were £3 brownies although sadly due to a miscommunication about what we were actually going to see (something about red riding hood and needing to bring cake for the wolf? I really still dont know!) we had arrived pre-kitted out with our own packet of extremely chocolate mini rolls so couldn’t sample the baked goods, but judging on smell alone I’d give them 10/10.
Anyway we were there for the The Vault festival which ran in February, and I am really hoping returns again later in the year. Basing our choice more on what night we were free rather than something we were desperate to attend, we plucked at random to buy tickets for The Folk Contraption which is the current project from the Rogues Gallery who are a group of actors, writers and directors who were “fed up of waiting for the phone to ring” and decided to create their own work which is brilliant in itself and should be supported. Also the description of the performance was ‘ramshackle’ which is probably my favourite word and style of thing too.
The Folk Contraption took place in a tented-off area in the vaults, and as everyone sat cross-legged on the floor with wide eyes I got the impression everyone was as unsure what to expect as we were. What followed was the most enchanting, amazing performance (definitely living up to the ramshackle promise) that consisted of stories, poetry, songs, music, sketches, comedy and basically anything else you can think of. They describe it as part play, part gig and part magical mystery tour which is pretty accurate! All the performers were so talented, that it was often impossible to know who to keep your eye on as they roamed through the seated crowds performing as they towered over us. The content was so diverse that I hardly even blinked and I didn’t get at all fatigued (I usually have a pretty short attention span for all things theatre).
It’s an unusual thing to be able to say and actually mean, but the show made me laugh out loud AND shed a little tear, as well as tons of other emotions in between. Everything was themed around London through various ages and felt like a real celebration and reminder of why I choose to live in this sometimes tough, rough city. I can’t recommend this show and bunch of performers highly enough, I know I will be stalking their twitter (@roguesgallery10)obsessively to find out if they are doing anymore shows in the future!
Take a trip down to the Old Vic tunnels soon for a drink or movie before everyone discovers it (Maybe start with the amazing Animal Party! ) And tell me how the brownies are…