I turned 30 in The Vaults on Friday and I promise you, there's no better festival for feeling your age. Not only is the place heaving with young folk who still have all their own hair (and teeth), it's line-up is packed with the sort of emerging work that needs making more than it necessarily needs seeing. And if that's not enough, try finding yourself in the middle of a cosplay rave-ercise class led by a bloke dressed as the Great God Pan.
That experience – ludicrous, giddy and strangely intoxicating – comes at the end of Artful Badger's new cabaret compendium, Wild Works: Dark Side: a lushly designed jumble, with a high sense of fashion and no sense of purpose.
You think, at first, that it's pushing feminism, as six women in jaunty red dresses confront the audience with rhythmic dance. They sew themselves up and slam hands over their mouths, then pick their noses and discard the results. Think Rosas meets Stomp. All the while, they spit out a soundcloud of anger and anxiety: ‘Can I just say…' one ticks on repeat. Then – handbrake turn – a recorded voiceover leads the audience in an ironic breathing exercise – "And in-2-3-4" – that's shattered by fireworks at the far end of the room.
Elsewhere, there are balletic bird-women and a monstrous aerial routine on a suspended web, not to mention Pan's callisthenics. However, with five acts over the course of an hour, all over-extended, it feels like half a show.
Miran Hadzic's two-hander The Day After (They Went Off On One) is a love-hate letter to London. A romance set against the throng and throb of the city, it follows two lost, lonely souls that seem destined to meet. When they do, it's no fairytale ending. As Dean Martin might have put it: "When you shag some young bore throwing up by your door, that's amore / As he flicks off the sick while he gets out his dick, that's amore."
Him (Todd James), he's a wide-eyed wanderer, umemployed and aimless. Her (Ruby Thompson), she's a depressive Northerner in a dead-end job. Both of them are totally in love with London; he walks around dreamily, lapping up its hum, while she scouts out its myriad opportunities for public suicide, fantasising about her own funeral. Hadzic replicates the rhythms of spoken word, finding beauty in city's scuzz. Rhyming couplets make a meeting seem inevitable and Juliet Knight's direction toys with that neatly: the pair stand side by side in opposite corners of London.
When they do meet – and that's the big city dream – it's a grubby, desperate encounter: a bile-flavoured fumble, not worth repeating. Yet there's just enough affection to keep it tender and real: two brittle people finding solace in one another. Young love, eh?
VAULT Festival runs until 8th March at the Leake Street Tunnels.