Innovative theatre at The Old Vic Tunnels

!(feature_c)!Trains are arriving at Waterloo Station on tracks held up by creativity as The Old Vic injects culture into the tunnels beneath the tracks. The evolving space has already been the setting for theatre, music events, art exhibitions and the premiere of the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop, while the current production Ditch makes use of the surroundings with installations setting the scene as you enter. With a diverse programme planned over the coming months, there’s also the opportunity to get involved with a unique volunteer scheme and internships available to become part of the Old Vic Tunnel community and get real experience in this fascinating space. Mike Barnard found out more.

!(feature_r)!The Old Vic Tunnels beneath Waterloo station have been the workspace of British Rail workers, but when Euro Star arrived the five parallel tunnels went unused. Now they have been transformed from desolate spaces into creative arches. The performance venue will host ‘pop-up’ events and film screenings throughout the year and The Old Vic will collaborate with a variety of partners ranging from theatre groups, visual artists, film-makers and musicians to create powerful aural and visual experiences.

Five parallel tunnels have been transformed from desolate spaces into creative arches.

!(feature_l)!The current show, Ditch, is a prime example of how The Old Vic Tunnels offer a unique theatrical experience and one that can change with every production. The play is set in Britain in the near future when much of the country is submerged and life has become a battle for survival. A fascist government rules and in a rural outpost a patrol keeps watch for illegals while trying to retain their memory of the life they once knew. It’s a desperate view of the future, and one that is enhanced immensely by the venue’s resident ambiance and the addition of installations from the moment you walk through the door into the tunnels.

The peeling paint over the exposed brickwork of the tunnels gives a feel of entering a war bunker. A wooden walkway is elevated over a pool of dirty liquid and a rat is hung by its tail overhead. Moving through the series of arches that link the tunnels you’re confronted by art installations that evoke a sense of a starved society living on a wasteland where prosperity once thrived. It’s the perfect build-up to a play which uses a round pit of mud for the performance space to magnify the sense of desperation facing the characters in their individual psychological plights, making for a more involved experience. The sound of trains rumbling overhead is unavoidable, yet adds to the effect of being in a place that is at threat from distant fighting that could lurch closer at any moment.

!(feature_r)!Ditch sees a trio of hardened soldiers joined at the outpost by a fresh-faced youngster who finds some hope in the wasteland Britain has become. While the scowling Mrs Peel (Dearbhla Molloy) and her pretty assistant Megan (Matti Houghton) tend to the often drunken soldiers they all come head-to-head with emotional challenges as harsh as the ground that surrounds them. Danny Webb puts in a terrific performance as war veteran Burns longing to hear news of his son, veering from caring father figure to the three lads to a drunken stupor with ease. Dearbhla Molloy is on fine form with her glib comments bringing wry smiles and shares a touching on-stage chemistry with Webb. Megan and her relationship with the newboy James (Gethin Anthony) provide another indication of what hope for the future could be lost to the past while the laddish Bug (Paul Rattray) and Turner (Sam Hazeldine) offer a view into the wider world outside the camp with their chats on watch. Beth Steel’s writing lacks specifics at times, requiring the audience to fill in many details to fully understand the predicament Britain has found itself in and struggles to set the scene in the first half, but Ditch comes alive after the interval with a dramatic finish.

Get involved in The Old Vic Tunnels

!(feature_l)!If you’d like to be involved in The Old Vic Tunnels project, there’s every chance to get behind the scenes and make the space come to life. Funding has been awarded for 10, three-month internships to run across a range of artistic elements. There are places available to work across production, operations, marketing, administration and fundraising — The Old Vic Tunnels team offers valuable practical experience that can equip skills for future work in or out of the cultural industries. All aspects of the work will be guided by professionals at The Old Vic, V‐Inspired, and the wider working world. Funder V-Inspired believes that every young person has the right to volunteer, and reaches out to disadvataged young people and those who’ve never considered volunteering: people from all backgrounds, disciplines and abilities can join The Old Vic Tunnels’ internships. There are no stipulations on experience; they just need you to be tenacious, hard working and a team player. For more information click here.

Additionally, The Old Vic Tunnels is recruiting a swarm of individuals to inhabit The Tunnels and create the space around the show. This will be on a voluntary basis, but the rewards will be varied and the experience valuable. Find out more on the Facebook group already active with volunteers sharing their experiences. Search for Old Vic Tunnels Underground.

For more information about all aspects of The Old Vic Tunnels, click here.

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