[Review] VAULT Festival 2017: Haunted Houses and Fun Funerals (3 & 4/2/17)
We Are Brontë by Publick Transport
It’s hard to pin down what exactly We Are Brontë is. Very loosely based off of the Brontë family’s life and times, Publick Transport utilises physical theatre and clever use of props to interpret the Gothic lifestyle, to hilarious results.
If you’ve ever read a novel by one of the Brontës, or know anything about Gothic horror tropes, We Are Brontë will almost certainly resonate with you. The show doesn’t follow any particular narrative, instead presenting a series of scenes between two ‘Gothic’ characters, played by artistic director Angus Barr and Sarah Corbett clad in black Victorian clothing and disheveled wigs. Before starting, the two establish that this is in no way going to be a straightforward show, interrupting the flow every so often to interject or comment. It’s an interesting commentary on the way the Brontë myth and by extension, the Gothic myth, have been constructed in people’s heads, and seeks to completely ruin (or improve) your notion of it.
Part haunted house, part Gothic love story, both Angus and Sarah perform their way through Gothic stereotypes, from figures watching from behind picture frames to bloody tuberculosis sufferers, who also happen to eat worms. Their movements are big, exaggerated affairs, and the two completely commit themselves to the roles, never once breaking character unless on purpose. Their deadpan delivery only adds to the humour, and there’s an impressive array of makeshift props that turns the show into a delightful absurdist sequence of events. Much of the humour is derived from manipulating expectations, and what at first seems to be a grandiose, overwrought scene is quickly subverted by their portrayal and unchanging pained facial expressions. One particularly funny sequence involves Sarah swaddled in a white cloth, shivering as the lights dim, while Angus puppeteers a naked baby doll, leaping over Sarah’s head while a smoke machine spews mist from the moors before Angus abruptly breaks character. It’s nigh impossible not to giggle at how the two conduct themselves, and the surreal occurrences that just keep happening to them for no rhyme or reason. Yet there’s also a degree of elegance to it all, grace even, as the characters collapse, convulse and clown their way across their makeshift Gothic house on the Yorkshire moors.
We Are Brontë is constantly on point with comic timing, and we only wish it went on longer. Publick Transport is on top of their game with their mastery of genre humour, and you’ll find yourself amazed at this display of physical theatre at its best. Come prepared by listening to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights to get you in the mood, and expect a real visual feast for the eyes from this indubitably creative team.
Wooden Overcoats LIVE
It’s not everyday you catch a show about funerals that leaves a smile on your face. Wooden Overcoats Live is the live edition of the hit podcast of the same name. For one night only at the VAULT Festival, the team came together to perform what was essentially an introduction to the entire series.
Created and written by David K. Barnes, Wooden Overcoats is a podcast sitcom set in the fictional village of Piffling in the Channel Islands, where protagonist Rudyard Funn (Felix Trench), his morbid sister Antigone (Beth Eyre) and Georgie (Ciara Baxendale) run a funeral home. But when a new, sexy undertaker Eric Chapman (Tom Crowley) sets up shop opposite him in the square, tensions run abound. There’s only space for one funeral home in the village, and an intense, hilarious rivalry develops.
Taking the podcast live is always an interesting move, and most of the time, is more for fans than anything. But Wooden Overcoats makes sure that this particular show is accessible to both newcomers and longtime fans with its origin story plot. The team uses the live medium to good atmospheric effect and creating a sense of place, be it with a moving spotlight to represent a lighthouse or contrasting warm and cold lights to highlight the polar opposite personalities of Chapman and Funn.
But of course, the real stars of the show remain the actors themselves, and to see them performing is quite a different experience from merely hearing them. Felix Trench and Beth Eyre perform the funereal, socially awkward twins to comic perfection, with Trench encapsulating the dour essence of a business-minded funeral director who couldn’t be more excited about death, and Eyre a regular Wednesday Addams, slightly creepy, slightly obsessed, and a tinge possessed. Tom Crowley captures the spirit of a charming, love-to-hate, hate-to-love Chapman while Clara Baxendale’s deadpan, can’t be arsed Georgie is a great foil to Trench’s somewhat more melodramatic delivery. And that’s just the main four. From the secondary cast members, Pip Gladwin does a remarkable job as hapless Mayor Desmond, and Peter Wicks’s plays up both eccentric sea captain Sodbury’s and dithering reverend Wavering’s comic mannerisms to a T. Finally, Sarah Burton switches seamlessly between her narrator voice, lusty nan and the squeak of a mouse.
Wooden Overcoats’ script has a timeless quality to it that ensures its longevity and appeal to all ages, and its thanks to its very capable cast breathing life into it that it’s become the show that it is. Above all, it’s important to see that they’re having just as much fun as the audience is, and even manage to turn bloopers into additional points of endearment, making this show an absolute joy to watch. With its motley crew of off-kilter characters and quirky plots, Wooden Overcoats have now earned themselves a new fan and listener in this writer, and we recommend you check out their podcast ASAP.