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Theatre Review: Vespertilio @ The Vault Festival 2019


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A damp, yet not uncomfortable, smell meets the nostrils of the audience as we walk into the Cavern at the Vaults where Vespertilio, Barry Mcstay’s new play, is being staged as part of the Vault festival 2019.

Image courtesy of Chloé Nelkin Consulting

The room looks like a tunnel, and the smell and high ceiling creates a fitting sensation of being remote and underground.

As the play begins a train passes over our heads, and the rumbles gives the perfect atmosphere to the beginning of the play.The light goes out, a flashlight cuts through the darkness shining on a figure curled up in the corner.

Alan (Benedict Salter) is a bat expert doing his daily routine of checking on a male Greater mouse eared bat, the last in Britain, hibernating in the tunnel, when he finds the young runaway Josh (Joshua Oakes-Rogers).

Mcstay got his inspiration for the play from an article in the Guardian about “Britain’s loneliest bat”, 16 years on its own and hibernating under an unused railway.

Alan is a middle aged, autistic-coded character with social anxiety, who has found a calm in a protective obsession with bats. Salter plays this character with a truthful innocence that is phenomenal. As an audience you follow this timid, lonely man coming out of his shell and falling in love for the first time.The contrast between the man’s outer and inner age is very well delivered, and the performance draws you in.

The connection between the characters is very naturalistic, and at times almost filmic, as Josh the young runaway and troublemaker moves in on Alan. Oakes-Rogers place him with a slick charm and vulnerability, that goes straight to the heart of the audience.

The two actors have a great sense of comedic timing, and a very high level of collaboration.

Both the fun and the sadness of a story of these two lost souls finding each other hits home, and at the same time the play raises awareness of the endangerment of the Bats, which is a sad truth, and something people should be aware of.  Nothing is better than entertainment that doesnt just entertain, but also reaches your conscience and make you think.

Lucy Atkinson has directed this play beautifully and the set-design, and location is spot on - it makes you feel like a fly on the wall observing, and it’s rare that a theatre director manages to create this filmic element.

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