Here's why you need to visit The Vaults in London
One of London’s hidden theatrical gems is to be found not in the West End, but actually underground. The Vaults is well worth seeking out in its subterranean lair — it’s a vibrant, exciting space that champions pioneering work, immersive experiences, and lesser-heard voices like performers and creatives from the LGBTQ+ community. It’s often provocative, cutting-edge, inclusive and, above all, fun.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing a show at this unique theatre, read on for our definitive guide to The Vaults and the productions you can book for now.
Where is The Vaults?
Talk about good recycling. The Vaults cleverly repurposes the disused railway arches and winding tunnels beneath Waterloo Station in south London. It’s a wonderful rabbit warren, with the distant noise of trains above and a whole world to discover below.
The theatre is building on an established heritage of creativity, too. The Leake Street graffiti tunnel was founded by none other than Banksy, and is now a feast of street art. Likewise, The Vaults invites new contemporary voices and encourages shows to really surround and engage with their audiences.
The theatre has a maximum capacity of 150 people, or 120 with raked seating if you just use the space rather than the maze of surrounding tunnels. That means it has an intimate feel, and you can get up close and personal with the performers.
What shows are produced at The Vaults?
The closest comparison point to this space is a fringe festival like Edinburgh, rather than a traditional theatre. Yes, you might find plays here, and musicals, but also specially designed immersive shows, cabaret, burlesque, comedy, dining experiences, and much more. If it’s experimental, daring, unusual or imaginative, it has a home here. The Vaults co-produces shows with different theatre-makers, mixing art forms in interesting ways and giving new voices a platform.
Past successes here include the 50th-anniversary revival of iconoclastic musical Hair, in 2017, by director Jonathan O’Boyle - which featured several ‘clothing optional’ performances. That year also saw the successful return of Alice’s Adventures Underground, a Les Enfant Terribles immersive production that began at The Vaults in 2015. It plunged audiences into Lewis Carroll’s surreal fairy-tale world, from encounters with the Cheshire Cat and Mock Turtle to an elaborate Dormouse’s forest and Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
The Vaults was also home to hilarious anarchic shows like King Kong (A Comedy), new musicals like the World War Two-set Miss Nightingale, and searing adaptations like Trainspotting Live. Or how about a show illustrating that the Almighty is actually a woman? Comedian Zoe Lyons led the winking An Act of God in 2019.
The Vaults is also home to VAULT Festival, an eight-week long showcase of theatre, comedy and live entertainment.
What can you eat and drink at The Vaults?
Welcome to Leakeys, the swish new bar and club at The Vaults. It’s open five days a week, with late hours on Fridays and Saturdays (open till 2am), and serves up cocktails, beer, wine and spirits — all to fuel your funky moves on the dancefloor.
Many of the shows at The Vaults also have an eating and/or drinking element, with themed menus to match the production, so keep an eye out for that if you want the full experience.
What shows can you book for at The Vaults now?
If you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz, musical Wicked, or any other element of L Frank Baum’s fantastical world, then you won’t want to miss new show The Witches of Oz. Have your say in the hottest popularity contest: the battle to be the next Witch of Oz. Will good or wicked prevail? Tap your ruby heels together three times (and buy a ticket) to find out.
This fabulous technicolour spectacle comes courtesy of ShayShay, who had a previous hit with Mulan Rouge. Expect a similar raucous homage, plus elements of drag, burlesque, comedy and a four-course meal - plus cocktails - that would make any other show green with envy.
Or perhaps you're looking for an otherworldly trip? Well how about a trip to the Upside Down. Discover the joys of Stranger Things combined with a musical flair at Stranger Sings! Embrace the wild mullets, the pulsating fairy lights, and an 80s soundtrack to boot!
Photo credit: The Vaults (Photo courtesy of The Vaults)
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