Dante’s In-Furlough, based on Shel Silverstein’s poem, ‘Billy Markham and the Devil’ is a humorously named immersive piece at London’s ‘The Vaults’, underneath Waterloo station.
We wander through the dank rooms in teams of Horns and Tails – our group follows a demon; loyal to the Devil and sex-obsessed. His skeletal, bony body being a not-so-subtle reference to his earthly sins. Using Silverstein’s epic original text we hear, in stages, of how the Devil came to be marrying Nancy (who is drinking copiously at the prospect). Holding an incredibly strong whisky cocktail, courtesy of the devilish bartender, I am quickly pulled into this underworld of sin and transgression. Nothing is more reminiscent of a wedding than drinking too much and hearing the ‘how we first met’ story.
We find out that Nancy’s ex-lover, Billy Markham, lost to the Devil and the Devil’s prize is to “fuck her for all eternity”. This show has an 18+ warning, and for good reason! We are queried on our sexual exploits, types of sexual positions, and past participation in orgies with unicorns.
Part story, part quest, we have forgotten our gift to the Devil’s wedding and need to collect 12 souls to take to the wedding banquet. These souls can be obtained through various methods; rock-paper-scissors, putting your hand into a box filled with grotesque objects, and playing games at a macabre funfair.
I gain one soul for rock-paper-scissors, three from naming the reverse cowgirl as a sexual position, and four for throwing balls into the mouths of painted lions and wolves in the ghoulish fairground. Obviously, I have not made my spirit target – but this is hell – so I lie and say I did. Cheerfully, I am led into the main reception of the wedding and am fed a feast of horrors – pumpkin soup, devil’s fruit tart and a spit-roasted celeriac (the vegetarianism definitely gets in the way of gore factor here).
The food is part of the experience, in that I am fully immersed into the world of the Devil’s wedding and I participate as much as I would at a friend’s special day – perhaps, in fact, more. With the social distancing, the awkwardness of an actual wedding where you get stuck on a table with people you’ve never met is alleviated. The food is not exceptional, nor bad, but I feel the experience is heightened by quite literally feasting with the Devil.
This piece is a brilliant use of the space of ‘The Vaults’ and the attention to detail in the set design is second-to-none. Completely unhindered by the pandemic, the ‘hell’ of the piece is actually heaven when compared with the dearth of activity in the world above.
Dante’s in-Furlough is playing at The Vaults until 30 December. For tickets and information, see The Vaults’ website.