[Review] VAULT Festival 2017: Adventures in Space, Deathly Beaches and Extreme Women (15/2/17)
Week 4 of the VAULT Festival begins in earnest, and this week, we’re checking out a couple of shows with truly unique concepts. There’s the sci-fi musical Summer Nights in Space, creative but heartfelt musing on death On The Crest of A Wave and comedienne extraordinaire Eleanor Conway telling tales of her rather insane life:
Summer Nights in Space by Henry Carpenter, Presented by Hannah Elsy Productions
How do you follow up a show about an out of the world character who sings with something new? You take the show itself out of the world of course. Henry Carpenter follows up his critically acclaimed Quentin Dentin Show with another one act musical in the form of Summer Nights in Space, this time following the adventures of an intrepid, overzealous space nut. But Star Trek this is not.
Summer Nights in Space is set in the control room of astronaut John Spartan (Matthew Jacobs Morgan) as he sits in his chair, having traveled the wonders and vast infinitum of space for the past three years. Growing up, he was obsessed with breaking new frontiers, and heading to space was always a dream. But now, he’s bored, with only a wry computer (a deadpan and strangely accented Benjamin Victor) for company and 4,004 unread Spam messages. One of those messages however, happens to be a distress call from a marooned female astronaut, and driven by loneliness and the thirst for having something actual to do, he proceeds, even after receiving warnings not to. Along the way, he discovers a ferocious man-eating alien (Candice Palladino) stowed away on board, and must fight both her and the dreaded Space Madness to survive the journey home…
For sci-fi fans, Summer Nights in Space recalls classics such as Ridley Scott’s Alien, and riffs on the now familiar tropes of space films but flips them on their head. For all its love of its inspiration though, Summer Nights feels a little dated, often just shy of taking its narrative one notch further, or playing it too close to its source material as opposed to outright parody. At the same time, it remains an extremely enjoyable piece, anchored by the high energy performances of leads Morgan and Palladino, whose uneasy alliance is a constant source of amusement and choreography during Henry Carpetner’s fun and joyous 60s/70s space rock inspired musical numbers had us tapping along with our feet. Even though Benjamin Victor doesn’t make a physical appearance for most of the show, his presence as the voice of the computer is keenly felt, and even given his own sad, robotic verses in a few songs, inciting laughter from the audience.
Overall, Summer Nights is what I’d describe as a very cute show, with obvious homage to the sci-fi greats and adorable, well-written songs (kudos to Henry Carpenter himself, Mickey Howard and Archie Wolfman as the live ‘Spacebugs’ band). Ultimately, what feels like a classic show from the 70s is given new meaning upon the reveal of its twist near the end with an obnoxious rap number, and manages to leave its audience with a continued sense of wonder at the eternal mystery and beauty of space, redeeming its initially weaker narrative. After all, what better way to celebrate the universal appeal of outer space than with catchy songs?
On The Crest of A Wave by Camilla Whitehill and Longsight Theatre
Award-winning playwright Camilla Whitehill returns once again to the VAULT Festival with a new piece, this time dealing with the joyful subject of death. Created in the wake of her grandmother’s death and her father’s struggle with it, On The Crest of A Wave attempts to tackle the difficult process of grief and decides to subvert the doom and gloom of a loss by putting the fun into funeral.
With a playful set consisting of ‘paste your face’ standees, a wading pool and even actual sand, the old timey bathing suit clad cast of four (including Whitehill herself) could easily trick the unwary audience member into thinking it’s a show of quite a different kind. But as the saying goes, life’s a beach, and Whitehill attempts to explore the concept of funerals as a means of celebrating a life, even going so far as to hold a pre-funeral for cast member Kat Bond, handing out black party hats to audience members and thinking about how one would remember Bond in death.
The rest of the show follows with cast members enacting stories from members of Longsight Theatre: Luke Courtier playing a pageant queen (Ms Preston 1959, to be exact) and running through her illustrious career and tips on how to succeed, Stephen Myott-Meadows recounting his own story of basing his life on his grandfather’s as a ‘famed world war pianist’and inheriting his talent and destiny by being born exactly 6 months from his death, and Kat Bond with a fairytale-like piece about two roses searching for a mythical creature that has prematurely taken their youngest sibling (in which Courtier, in a wonderful over the top performance, also plays a debonair crab and electric eel). Each of these pieces are extremely entertaining, often with portions so ridiculous or funny that the audience bursts into laughter together, while also laced with a lethal dose of the feels, appearing during the least expected moments, and hitting with unexpected force.
Whitehill’s script is never contrived and works so well because of its sincerity. One line stands out: it’s often said that people die twice – once when they breathe their last breath, and another when others cease to talk about them. As such, the show seeks to remember the lost in the ways they know best: through stories of their lives. On The Crest of A Wave is deeply affecting while also brilliantly performed by its extremely talented cast, resulting in a powerful show whose cheery visuals act as a foil to its more somber content. Overall, a thought-provoking approach to death and mortality, and definitive proof that Whitehill’s output is consistently deserving of their accolades.
Eleanor Conway’s Walk of Shame by Eleanor Conway
Reformed party girl Eleanor Conway has done a couple of things in her life few would ever dream of. From working for the triads in Taiwan, doing hardcore porn (editing) to a dangerous addiction of the three Ds – drinking, drugs and the D, few people would dare even admit to these without a drop of shame. But in her solo show, Conway bares it all, and to hilarious degree.
Conway knows how to deliver a joke, and her Walk of Shame is laugh a minute brilliance. Her walk of shame feels almost like one of pride though, and rightfully so – her addiction to the extremities in life are things few would even have done, let alone turn into an entire show. Her willingness to put herself on the chopping block and be so upfront with her audience is part of her charm, and her vulnerabilities are turned into comedy gold. Where else would you hear about a woman who quits her porn editor job over a dirty carpet, or stealthily inserts a (very funny) period joke while discussing silly arguments with her drug dealing ex-boyfriend? Of course, she’s since kicked both drinking and drugs, but in doing so takes the opportunity to joke about her sexting and thankfulness that there isn’t a Shazam for orgasms.
But amidst the laughs and incredible (and incredulous) things she’s done in her life, Conway manages to fit in a sobering story about abusive relationships that might hit closer to home for some people than expected. This is before she manages to dissipate the mood again with a single line that brings on the sniggers once again. This is all testament to how Conway truly has a feel for atmosphere and knows how to work her audience, and her earnest and unabashed delivery made for one of the best comedy nights in a while.
At the heart of it all, for all its deviance, there’s a wonderful story about a woman with an addictive personality with a vibrant spirit and embodies the essence of a joie de vivre, making for a surprisingly inspirational figure with her can do attitude and independence. Eleanor Conway’s Walk of Shame may have some out there moments, but she always remains grounded in her personality and surprisingly relatable for anyone who’s ever had a brush with the party scene, or knows someone like that in their life, and is a fantastic show for anyone who’s ever felt like their life is going nowhere and is a surefire way to cheer yourself up.
P.S. Don’t think that you’re safe from her if you sit in the third or even fourth rows. This woman won’t hesitate to crack the most risque of jokes.