It may be cold and miserable outside but venture underground this winter and a warm, artistic glow awaits thanks to an annual arts festival.
Yes, the VAULT festival is back for a fifth year in its regular home in the tunnels under Waterloo station from next week and it promises a wealth of cultural and artistic talent.
Starting on Wednesday, January 25 and running for six weeks until March 5, the venue will once again play host to this ever popular event which features a myriad of pleasures - from comedy to theatre, dance to film, including weekend events for the youngsters in the family that feature storytelling and mini raves.
As in previous years there are also DJs, bars and food and a series of late night parties to ensure there is something for everyone.
Put together by Mat Burt and his team, this year VAULT has also expanded to include satellite venues of the Network Theatre and Morley College.
It is, he tells me, partly as a result of demand for more events and an increase in applications by individuals and groups to perform.
“The Network Theatre is such a lovely space that many people don’t know about, but should, so they have very kindly allowed us to be there which is fantastic,” he says. “As well as encourage people to get to know them better, it also means we have been able to programme more into the festival.
“We’ve also got access to Morley College so it feels more of a community event.
“The festival itself seems to keep growing and this time we had about 700 applicants wanting to perform which is incredible.
“Our goal is to give everyone an opportunity so we have a mix of groups and individuals - some of whom we have worked with before and are perhaps well known, but others who are here for the first time, and who we believe will be the big names of tomorrow. Some have come back but are doing something different this time so it’s really exciting.
“We have also expanded it to six weeks and feel we have a really cool mix in the programme which will appeal to a wide range of people - whether they have been before or are new to the festival.
“With a total of 200 performers, it’s shaping up to be a fantastic six weeks.”
This year Mat says the underlying theme to it all is the future in general and sci fi and space in particular, in part due to what emerged from the submissions by the applicants.
“We’ve made PROXIMA V - a carefully selected strand of sci-fi and space experiences designed to make you think about where we’re all headed, what’s happening next culturally and in a cosmic sense and if we really are all in it together,” he says.
“Everyone had a bit of a bummer of a year last year and so some of the events look at what we can do to rectify things and how we do that as well as what we can achieve, especially culturally.
“Some of it will be very silly and funny such as with Superbly Theatre who are coming back to VAULT with Mars Actually, but some of it will be really reflective. It will feature film, theatre, comedy and astronomy and it looks really exciting.
“Of course there is also plenty about what’s happening today with social issues including feminism and equality. We are really pleased with what we’ve got on offer this year.”
Although Mat is coy when it comes to choosing his highlights, he does allude to award-winning company The Flanagan Collective who will immerse audiences in decadence and excess with their production of The Great Gatsby.
It will be performed across multiple spaces within the venue’s complex giving people a unique theatrical experience.
He’s also excited about Ventoux, a restaging of the epic rivalry between Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani on the fearsome Mont Ventoux in the 2000 Tour de France as well as the MMORPG Show from the makers of Knightmare Live, which he describes as an epic, sprawling show entirely of the audience’s devising comprising improv and table top gaming.
“I spend my free time playing board games so this is right up my street,” he laughs.
He also points to comedy from Adele Is Younger Than Us and the VAULT Comedy Festival which promises a fresh line-up stepping up to the mic.
And then there is the weekly VAULT Film Festival which premiers numerous shorts and features, including dark_net staring Johnny Vegas and Love Comes Later, a London premiere staring Sarita Choudhury.
Elsewhere he says he’s excited about verbatim show Carry on Jaywick about a seaside gem of the Essex coast which has fallen on hard times. Four cast members tackle 30 characters in the show which is full of dark comedy.
Written by Tim Foley, Astronauts of Hartlepool tackles Brexit Britain, the North/South divide and immigration when two strangers meet on the headland and Summer Nights in Space is a one act musical that follows an Astronaut responding to an attractive astro-nette distress call, with a reluctant crew in tow. Produced by Hannah Elsy it is a heartfelt look at the meaning of modern life in space.
A collaboration between Subtle Paws and The Cockpit, AgRave Tale features dancers alongside a live DJ, real news and documentary footage which take the audience back to 1989 and the second summer of love, and set against the backdrop of Cornwall’s many second homes, writer Marietta Kirkbride stages The Long Trick, a new play about one man’s private protest against gentrification.
And if that’s not enough, when the curtain comes down the band starts up offering a chance to dance the night away every weekend at huge themed parties including the Valentine’s Ball and Mardi Gras party.
“The breadth of work we have on offer this year is huge so it’s really hard to pick favourites,” says Mat diplomatically.
“As in previous years, much of it is work that you may not see anywhere else - something that we feel has contributed to the success of the festival in general.
“What’s heartening for us is that the festival itself has really captured peoples’ imaginations, making it a popular and a real cultural and fun event in the heart of London.
“Last year we had 40,000 visitors, the year before it was 32,000 so it feels like a real endorsement of what we are doing.
“It has allowed us to grow it year on year, expanding the programme each time as well as adding to the number of performers and incorporating the food and bars.
‘It’s been a real journey for us but one we are really proud of.”
Mat and the team are also aware of how expensive it is to stage work especially for those just starting out on their creative and artistic career.
To that end they help not only with advice and support in marketing and staging but also by offering an increased percentage from the box office sales.
“We want VAULT to be as socially inclusive as possible,” he says. “There is so much talent out there from all backgrounds that it’s important to us to be able to show it.
“It’s very expensive to stage work in London so we try and help out where we can - it’s especially beneficial for those just emerging from drama or art school and who want to try things out.
“There has to be a balance obviously but if the festival was just for our mates or those who are already established it wouldn’t work.
“There is tonnes to see and do and as we try and keep our ticket prices as low as possible, we feel people can come along and try something out that they may not have thought about before.
“And with great food, the bars and late night entertainment people can also come in for free and just enjoy the atmosphere.
“Ultimately though we are really proud of this year’s event and feel it’s going to be a fun and really cool place to be for the next six weeks.”
VAULT is on between January 25 and March 5. Visit www.vaultfestival.com for full listings.