Vault Festival 2023 - the top shows to book from Happy Valley star Amit Shah’s Hummingbird to Surfacing

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After a two-year hiatus, Vault Festival returns with 500 shows over the next two months in venues dotted around Waterloo. Here are our picks of the shows you must see.

Hummingbird

 (Handout, Hummingbird, Bruised Sky Productions and Fledgling Theatre Company)
(Handout, Hummingbird, Bruised Sky Productions and Fledgling Theatre Company)

Happy Valley’s Amit Shah (he plays pharmacist Faisal) stars in this play about a husband who disappears and then seems to return as a hummingbird. His delighted wife starts to build wings to join him in the sky. Described as “Edward Albee’s The Goat meets Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”, Hummingbird is about two farmers facing up to some of life’s big questions.

From February 28 to March 5

All Falls Down

Audiences get involved in this interactive, improvised show about a group of friends trying to get back to civilisation, and survive in the wilderness, after an airplane crash. In this horror story by theatre company Chronic Insanity, the audience’s decisions drive the plot as well as how many of the characters survive the ordeal.

From January 24 to 28

Bloody Mary: Live

 (Ashley Garrett Photography)
(Ashley Garrett Photography)

A musical about Henry VIII’s wives became an international phenomenon with Six after starting at a festival. So why not a stand-up hour with Henry’s daughter Mary Tudor? Olivia Miller takes to the mic as the teenage queen back from the dead to rehabilitate her so-called ‘bloody’ image. It’s a vicious stand-up special, which looks at all the drama a “queenager” deals with from divorced parents to religious purges. The show also played Edinburgh last summer.

From January 24 to 29

Intruder/Intruz

Polish actor, writer and producer Remi Rachuba, who has worked with dreamthinkspeak and Katie Mitchell, premiered his solo play Intruder/Intruz at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, performing it in English and Polish. He then brought the play, described by The Scotsman as “complex and disturbing”, to London and Warsaw. It’s about a Polish man who comes to Scotland to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor, only to meet with traumatic events.

From January 28 to 29

The Ballerina

 (Diana Patient)
(Diana Patient)

With the intriguing pitch “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness meets Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, The Ballerina demands further investigation. This immersive production is set in a country “far, far, not so far away”, where a British diplomat is arrested by the intelligence agency accusing her of conspiring to overthrow the government. It’s a show that explores democracy, putting the African continent at the centre of the discussion. It premiered in New York in 2019 at Theaterlab NYC.

From January 31 to February 5

Sockpuppet

This is a play about deepfake technology, which allows images to be manipulated so anyone can pretend to be anyone else – a faintly terrifying prospect. Sockpuppet follows the lives of three students exploring the thorny underbelly of the internet from their student digs. Using live camera work, video projection and real-time deepfaking software this is a show that can ask – So, your face or mine?

From February 1 to 2

Cracked (Work in Progress)

Amy Beth Hayes, who has been in TV series Bridgerton and Mr Selfridge, as well as Jerusalem on stage, makes her writing and directing debut with Cracked, set in a Topps Tiles off an A road. Unnerving and disturbing with a complex character at its heart, who doesn’t just know everything about tiles, this show offers a heroine for our time.

From February 7 to 10

Surfacing

 (Bjorn Bauer)
(Bjorn Bauer)

This is the new play by Tom Powell, who won the Papatango Prize for new writing in 2021, and was on the BBC Studios Writer’s Academy, working on Holby City and EastEnders. Surfacing is about NHS therapist Luc who nearly drowns, and when she surfaces her whole world has changed completely. This two-hander uses motion-sensor technology with motion-responsive video design and composition to create a “contemporary Through the Looking Glass world”.

February 14 to 19

It’s a Motherf**king Pleasure

The debut show of disability-led theatre company FlawBored has attracted huge amounts of buzz at the festival this year. This dark comedy, about the monetisation of identity politics, follows blind talent manager Tim who is trying to make disability the next cultural cachet... and thinks he may have hit the jackpot with blind influencer Ross. This won the 2022 LET Greenwich Theatre Award.

From February 21 to 26

In PurSUEt

After two sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, In Pursuet, written by and starring Eleanor Higgins, is coming to the Vault Festival for the first time. ‘Woman’ is at her therapist’s office, sent there to deal with her drink problem. But she feels she doesn’t need help and what she really wants is Sue Perkins. They’re meant for each other, and she’s heading off in pursuit of love. Higgins has been described as “excellent” in this one-woman show about addiction and obsession.

From February 25 to March 5

The Bitten Peach

Billed as “STICKY, SEXY and eXXXtra HOT”, the UK’s only pan-Asian queer cabaret collective The Bitten Peach are in the festival’s new venue – the Flair Ground – for a spicy show. Last year, the group, which has featured more than 70 artists, performed at Glastonbury and was the focus of a Netflix short documentary Peach Paradise: Redefining Asian Drag, which can be found on YouTube. Set up in 2019, The Bitten Peach have gone from strength to strength.

From February 25 to 26

The Net Kill

This is the comedy about badminton you never knew you needed. It started life as a work-in-progress at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham and now, some three years on, here it is at the Vault Festival. Set at the end of the 19th century, this raucous comedy from Incognito Theatre Company follows a five-strong badminton team sent to vanquish a mysterious beast terrorising the English countryside.

From March 7 to 12

Good Grief

In Good Grief, award-winning physical company Ugly Bucket process the death of a friend through a “kinetic maelstrom of outrageous clowning, personal testimony and a thumping techno soundtrack”. The show, which won the Untapped Award and played to full houses at the Edinburgh Fringe, started from a real experience when a mentor of the theatre company’s founders who was terminally ill asked them for a 10-minute performance at his memorial. They quickly realised they had more than enough material for a full show about grief and the memories that are left behind.

From March 14 to 18