3 Stars

★★★ The Quality Street of Fringe Theatre: there’s some Purple Ones in the mix as well as the odd Green Triangle.

Simon Ward reviews The Significant Other Festival; Conditions at The Vaults

This is a series of eleven short plays, ten minutes each, commissioned by The Pensive Federation and written over the course of 5 days around the theme of The Significant Other, however that might be interpreted, and loosely tied together by weather-based titles and shared set and props.  An appropriately ramshackle premise for the Vault Theatre, sister venue to the even more ramshackle Vaults.  Some shows suit their venues – if you want to see an ultra-traditional production of Mrs Windermere’s Fan it’s the Theatre Royal Haymarket; if you want a fringe concept production then the Vault it is.  If you haven’t been before you should go, regardless of the show, just to experience the weirdness.

To be honest, it is a nightmare to review, as I have had to try to decipher scrawled notes for eleven completely different pieces with only the barest help from the programme, and inevitably some of the shows have blended together.  These exercises can also be dispiriting – one wonders whether the best work is really done under these constraints.  It is certainly true that the evening is uneven in tone and quality.  However the most successful pieces leave the audience intrigued to see how the characters and situations would develop over a full-length play, and the least successful at least have the advantage of not staying around too long.

The voiceover introducing each work with a definition of the weather conditions, both literal and metaphorical, is witty and charming, as is the music connecting the whole show.  It is fun to watch props appear and reappear – a goldfish; a badminton set; binoculars; a map.  And the performers are generally engaging.

It would be impossible to do justice to each piece individually but these are some of the high and low points of the evening.

The work opens with a kind of overture while all the characters from each play are choreographed interestingly enough across the stage before opening properly with ‘Humid’, and the first appearance of that goldfish.  Sadly this was a rather underwhelming beginning, with the actors seemingly under-rehearsed and the piece not really working overall.

Things pick up with the second piece ‘Flurry’ which is a thriller about college friends reuniting at dead of night for nefarious purposes.  This managed to create an eerie atmosphere with the minimal resources available.  It is also one of several pieces that feature a Significant Other whose effect is felt in spite of their absence.

The acting highlight of the evening for me was ‘Tornado’ about three unlikely characters trapped in a maze at a wedding – this was one I would happily have seen extended.  ‘Thaw’ managed to provide both some laughs and food for thought.  ‘Haze’ was a political drama probably too ambitious in scope for the time allowed.  ‘Drought’ had the sharpest lines of the night – why do they call it ‘London’ Luton?  And ‘Sunny Spells’, an amusingly bittersweet piece where the title refers to a nursing home, brought the thing to a rousing whole cast sing-along climax.

Full marks then for effort and energy, and probably more hits than misses overall.  Worth catching to see theatre being made underneath the arches.

Simon Ward

The Significant Other Festival plays at The Vaults until March 18th.

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