“How do you make space for yourself in a world that’s over capacity?” This, in many ways, is the central question of The Litterati – a short piece of original writing performed as part of the VAULT Festival.
The central character Millie (Eleanor Crosswell) is a fresh-faced aspiring journalist on the lookout for her first scoop. She is, as her girlfriend Hattie (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain) put it, a bit sheltered; so, when an opportunity to investigate an enigmatic underground group known as the Litterati comes up, she accepts with some trepidation.
As she descends into the underworld she finds a group of intellectual exiles. Lead by Dux (Sarel Rose), Reada (Roseanna Brear), Twix (Andy Umerah), and Sunny (Mitchell Fisher) live as outcasts from the rest of the world. As it becomes apparent, their status is not entirely voluntary. Each has been ousted from mainstream society by chance or circumstance, and has become disillusioned with the world’s ability to provide for the most vulnerable.
The work, then, has a clear social aim. Millie’s story is in many ways a parable, showing us the pitfalls of modern capitalism and the dangers of cutting off those who are most in need of support. It is also a call to action, as Reada’s final speech makes clear, that has resonance in the unequal world of 2017.
In this aim, it is largely successful. The actors inhabit their characters impeccably; Carswell is particularly good at portraying the bumbling but well-meaning journalist, and Dux adds a darkly comic edge to the narrative. The space also works well: the cavernous arches under Waterloo station add an aural and visual dimension to the work that suits the tone well. And, most importantly, the work is well-thought-out on a thematic level, which makes for a cohesive ideological framework.
In other ways, the play is less successful. Some of the humour falls a bit flat, as do the attempts to make the show more topical – references to Bruce Forsyth and Mary Berry didn’t really have much of a place and ended up making the show feel less focused. Some of the dynamics between the characters felt under developed (between Hattie and Millie for example). Even though the show was short, it could have capitalised more on the interplay between the characters and focused less on exposition and story setup.
The overall effect, though, is memorable. The strength of the work lies in its ability to take complex political and moral philosophies on the nature of social control and societal exclusion, and translate them into a set of identifiable characters and a compelling narrative. This sometimes comes at the expense of relatable characters and plausible, natural scenarios. It might not be the most polished work at the VAULT Festival, but the strength of its ideas shine through.
The Litterati featured at The Vaults until 29th January. For more information and tickets about what’s on, see here.