Review: This Must Be The Place, VAULT Festival

London is, and has always been my home. My urban playground and my cultural melting pot of professional development and personal frivolity. The capital of the United Kingdom, London hosts the world as people come to visit and live in the city that provides hope and opportunities to so many. Whilst London remains the place to be for many, at The Vaults, Brad Birch and Kenneth Emson’s portrayal suggests quite the opposite, as the engulfing dominance the Big Smoke can have on an individual’s mental and emotional state is presented in This Must Be The Place.

This Must Be The Place is a humorous and accurate account that presents the expectations of London, and exposes the realities of being an inhabitant in a city that close to 9 million people also call home. Two stories are shown, and although contrasting in their narrative, both are similar in the themes explored. News of tragedy from back home and intensifying pressure from his girlfriend leaves Adam (James Cooney), torn between his past and the present; whilst friends Matty (Hamish Rush) and Tate (Feliks Mathur) have nothing but each other, and their grand plan to leave for London…or as they call it ‘Landaan’.

Adam has flown the nest and has moved from the confines of a small town (a person I am all too familiar with). The perfect definition of a twenty-something, Adam has the job, the home (probably a flat given London’s notorious housing prices) and a girlfriend. Adam is settled, but his girlfriend Lily’s (Molly Roberts) desire to enrich their relationship, and constant mention of his dysfunctional family exposes the superficiality of his life. Adam’s distant demeanour results in him destroying his phone and removing himself from technology. For people his age such an act is unheard of, but what is common is the fact that hardly any twenty-something is truly settled, especially in London. Adam confronts this generations obsession with social media with the repetitive mention of it throughout the performance. This consistent feature encourages after thoughts about technology’s prevalence on more than just the tips of our fingers, but also our minds.

This agenda is smoothly balanced with empathy as the journey that Cooney takes us on for Adam confronting his demons is a connection felt through the venue, especially when he eventually returns home.

Whilst Adam has completely detached himself away from technology, a phone is all Matty and Tate have in beginning their move to London. The two friends are ready for a change and are filled with ambition, anticipation and a raucous amount of banter. This journey begins at night (sounds of passing cars can be heard), and although this could be a metaphor for the darker side to living in London, the narrative remains light and humorous. The performances from the cast are strong and unwavering which is something that is achieved through the set design and use of props. The cast speak into microphones and perform on a stage that sits above the venue’s seats which sets the tone for a conversational performance, rather than a thoroughly rehearsed play. This provides a sense of authenticity to the characters which makes their individual stories more engaging.

This Must Be The Place does anything but suggest this about London, but whilst it does not glorify the capital city, it does not degrade it either. This Must Be The Place is simply a story highlighting the realities of London whilst presenting deeper messages of isolation, detachment and running away, with London the symbol of prospective escapism.

Throughout the play Adam refers to connections and maintaining them, and as the cast take their final bow, a passing train from the railway track above us is heard. It is in this moment that the irony the play suggests makes one final appearance as transportation, full of multiple tracks and interconnections are just one thing that connects all Londoners…and what a place to be that is, especially during rush hour!

This Must Be The Place played at the Vaults as part of VAULT Festival until February 12. 

Photo: Mathew Foster