WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link

The team give the low-down on all things VAULT festival: part one

The eight-week celebration of arts and entertainment can be found underneath Waterloo station this season

© Heritage Arts/ VAULT Festival

Underneath Waterloo station – hidden within a maze of railway arches and tunnels – is a multi-performance space, The Vaults. And for the last eight years, during these wintery months, the space has played host to the VAULT Festival – London's self-proclaimed biggest, boldest and wildest series of arts and entertainment programming.

This year's offering is eight weeks long and features over 600 events including theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, family shows and late-night parties.

We asked some of the Festival team to spill the tea on all things VAULT:

Mat Burtcher, Bec Martin-Williams and Andy George

How would you describe VAULT Festival to a random member of the public?

Mat Burtcher – VAULT Festival co-director: The most welcoming underground collection of shows, events and all-round good times you could possibly imagine in London. 

Bec Martin-Williams – head of theatre and performance: An innovative, exciting and welcome festival of the best new work in the country.

Andy George – VAULT Festival co-director: Eight weeks of the wildest, boldest, and best arts and entertainment right in the heart of Waterloo.

George Islay Calderwood – head of operations: A warm respite during the cold months. Full of raw art across the spectrum. Always a great laugh even if you don't see anything – but you really should.

Laura Drake Chambers – head of lates: A hive of boundary-pushing, jaw-dropping, life-giving creativity. An arts festival fizzing with goodness!

Bríd Kirby – head of comedy: A festival of creatively brilliant work which has something for everyone, from all walks of life. 

Lee Drage – box office supervisor: Sanctuary from the dreary and ordinary – plus booze!

Alex Brains – bar team member: A crazy smörgåsbord of theatre, comedy, cabaret, dance and music. A celebration of the arts and of a good time all in the winding tunnels beneath Waterloo station! 

Laura Drake Chambers and Bríd Kirby
© left: Rah Petherbridge

What does VAULT Festival mean to you?

Kirby: Seeing how VAULT Festival has grown over the space of a few years has really shown me how much creative appetite there is to facilitate work being made in a sustainable and financially viable way. VAULT Festival is the best platform I can see for artists to be able to showcase their work to a large audience with the least amount of financial risk. Similar opportunities just don't exist in London and I feel very proud to have been a small part in the creation of this model.

Burtcher: VAULT Festival is proof that people working together, believing in each other and putting humans first is the best way to make the future worth fighting for.

Emma Doble – front of house: A beautifully creative community and safe haven for everyone.

Martin-Williams: A place for people of all backgrounds and walks of life to share in the hope and joy that art can bring.

Brains: Fun! We have fun, we create fun, we celebrate all walks of life and the festival is just a consistently good time. Every time people walk out of shows to grab a drink, they talk about what they saw and how they loved it. It's a brilliantly curated festival that invites discussion, celebrates diversity and creates fun. 

Calderwood: We've been working on this for so long and it's grown so much it's hard to remember where it all started sometimes, let alone what it has become to us all. Personally, it's important to look after the future generations, and VAULT heralds the up-and-coming as well as those who've been doing it for longer. I take a lot of pride in that.

Chambers: Creative community and support. Working with amazing, passionate people to proactively care for artists in an environment that's the perfect platform for them to experiment, push their work and take risks.

© Heritage Arts/ VAULT Festival

What is your favourite moment from any festival?

Brains: Bizarrely, one of my favourite moments from the festival was last year washing reusable cups at 5am with other bar staff and just having a massive laugh while we did so – and then the realisation that it genuinely didn't feel like work. We'd been cleaning cups for hours but the people and the environment is so warm and friendly that it didn't matter what we were doing. That moment, and also the time my friend dropped a pint mid-pour and it went all over him. I laughed too much.

Calderwood: I would say trying to lure a stray cat out of the venue at 5am, anything left-field at 5am keeps you alive. Or the Thairitto (Thai Burrito) eating competition from 2018 – so much wrap.

George: We installed a macerator in our main toilet block (a motorised fan that grinds up solids to small pieces). It got blocked, so we'd taken the lid off to unblock it but we hadn't turned it off. I very soon found out what happens when the sh*t hits the fan. Face first. Oh, and it was my birthday too.

Rhea Heath – general manager: Seeing the theatre crowd meet the Lates crowd on a Saturday night – especially last year.

Chambers: The look on every Lates artist's face when their event starts filling up, sells out and is full of happy people enjoying their art. 

Kirby: Welcoming someone who has never been there before. I never know what new companies or new audiences are expecting from VAULT but seeing their faces as they delve into those tunnels – it's like they've discovered something special!

Drage: My first proper festival: Endorse-it in Dorset. Dancing to drum 'n' bass in a field, drinking super strong country cider with seemingly psychedelic qualities, surrounded by my best mates. Perfick!

VAULT Festival Lates
© Heritage Arts/ VAULT Festival

Summarise the whole experience in three words.

Brains: Eclectic arty tunnels!

Burtcher: Fun. Authentic. Meaningful.

Calderwood: Oh. Wow. Phew.

Chambers: So. Damn. Fun!

Doble: Energising, exciting, surprising

Drage: Super art magic.

George: Extraordinary. Wild. Outrageous.

Heath: Sleep in April.

Kirby: Important. Unique. Innovative.

Martin-Williams: Joyous. Risky. Trailblazing.