The Vault Festival allowed me to fulfil my long held fantasy of wanting to disappear down a rabbit hole to escape from the bustling metropolis. For six weeks the vaults tucked away beneath Waterloo station are home to series of experimental pieces of theatre, amongst these is a one-woman show called Spark.
In this reworking of the German gothic ballad Lenore, we follow erratic redhead Leo (Holly Campbell) and her drunken ramblings as she spouts her frustration that her solider boyfriend Will – who was due back on leave a fortnight ago – has yet to arrive. Breaking the fourth wall, Leo addresses the audience directly to apologise for her drunken stupor the night before, and poetically explains that she is “much more than gin and smudged mascara”. Whilst recounting the many quirks she finds endearing about Will, she is overjoyed to find him knocking at her door. He proposes to her, and the pair decide to set off a mysterious journey through the sea to a small hut where they first met. As soon as the couple leave Leo’s flat, any hope the audience had of an easy to follow narrative soon slips away; instead we were left to piece together incomplete statements, surreal encounters and characters that may or may not be figments of Leo’s imagination.
A key theme that reverberates through Dissolve Theatre’s production is Leo’s loneliness. The vault’s high ceilings and cavernous nature provided an atmospheric backdrop for her isolation. Particularly during the moments when she was traipsing towards a distant hut, the location of the vault helped to intensify her distress at being all alone at sea. Campbell is clearly a good actress, whose forte appears to be expressing extreme emotions. However, the speed at which she flitted from whimsical light-hearted exchanges with Will, to screaming and cursing at the sky without any logical transitions, felt disjointed and schizophrenic. Lenore in Gottfried August Bürger’s original poem is clearly a complex character with a wide variety of emotions, and perhaps it was a tad ambitious to try and cram all of these into just 50 minutes.
Neither myself nor my companion had read the German ballad that Spark was based on. I personally couldn’t shift the niggling feeling that I would have gained a clearer understanding of the evening if I had been familiar with the original work. Although this modernised retelling of Lenore was lyrical and compelling in parts, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on evoking a surreal ambience rather than telling the story in a way that was easy to comprehend. Even with a more well known text, surely it is an oversight to rely on your entire audience having read the work as a prerequisite to being able to engage fully with the show.
Although Leo and her mysterious tale failed to spark my imagination, the real star of the evening was the venue. As I emerged from the vaults, and left the secretive tunnels I felt like I had discovered a hidden gem right in the heart of London.
Spark is playing as part of The Vault Festival until 8 February, for tickets and more information please visit the Vault Festival website.