Going Underground VAULT Festival: London’s Biggest Arts Explosion


Deep down inside the subterranean underworld beneath Waterloo Station lie the Vaults. Here in these cavernous bunkers you will find yourself immersed in the biggest performing arts festival in London. Natasha Sutton-Williams previews four of the top disability shows.

Flyer for a young male magician performing a card trick

Mahdi Gilbert’s Mahdi The Magician

There are over 300 shows to choose from at VAULT Festival, ranging from theatre, circus, musicals, stand up, live music and 360 degree immersive experiences. VAULT has strived to make the festival edgier, more diverse and accessible than ever before. From the emerging to the established, there are a plethora of disabled artists creating innovative, risk-taking work to excite, delight and inspire audiences.

Born without hands or feet, Mahdi Gilbert did not stop pursuing his dream of becoming a magician. With his extraordinary skill and sleight of hand, he has been recognised by Derren Brown and Penn and Teller as one of the most exciting up and coming magicians in the world.

Mahdi The Magician tells the story of his life: a love story between Mahdi and magic. He has structured the show in three parts: Before Magic, His Initiation, and Now. Mahdi takes the audience on a journey through his life and illustrates why and how he became a magician.

“Trick selection is very important. I chose a range of pieces from the very first magic I ever learned to really beautiful magic that is the pinnacle of what my ideal image of magic is like.”

In some tricks Mahdi creates astonishing set pieces where the story of his life is hidden behind the metaphors of the magic on stage; in other illusions a problem he faces is resolved by magical means. Other tricks are overtly autobiographical. The show transforms his life story into an unbelievable feast of wonder for the eyes and soul.

Photo of a young woman sitting in a chair holding an umbrella

Silent Faces’ A Clown Show About Rain

Silent Faces are an integrated theatre company that push the boundaries of physical theatre in a contemporary political context. Using a toolbox of playful clowning techniques they create work, which makes a statement using very little language. The company members consist of politically engaged individuals who embrace the idea that comedy can and should be utilised to talk about serious issues.

Director and performer Josie Underwood underlines the idea that, “Entertainment is key to our work. We never want an audience to leave feeling lectured or weighed down by political diatribes. Each show is born from a frustration with the world around us, and a real desire to make people take note of the things we discuss.”

Their latest piece A Clown Show About Rain is a heartfelt yet funny exploration of the complexities of understanding and dealing with depression. Having struggled in numerous ways with trying to communicate what depression feels like to doctors, family, friends and colleagues, Silent Faces decided it would be best to just make a show about it so people could see for themselves.

Having made world-class, cutting-edge theatre for over 30 years, Mind the Gap are one of Europe’s leading learning disability theatre companies. Their mission is to create local and international work in an arts sector where there is equal opportunity for performers with learning difficulties.

A partially silhouetted image of a young woman holding a baby

Mind The Gaps’ Mia: Daughters of Fortune

Their touring show Mia: Daughters of Fortune is based on interviews with parents who have learning difficulties. The show explores the truths and myths surrounding learning disability and parenthood in today’s society.

Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee said of the piece, “When I make theatre I always remind myself that my job is to ask questions, not to give answers. In Mia, I want people to consider this issue and make their own judgement. I do not want to advocate any one single point of view. We are all different people and the success of humanity depends on mutual understanding and cooperation”.

The performance is structured with a series of non-linear episodes that vary in form and pace; from high energy pop dance to intimate monologues, low-tech object manipulation to live feed camera and loop pedal. The show is performed by four learning disabled artists who make reference to their own experiences within the narrative.

Photo of a young woman dressed in underwear kneeling on a stage

Georgie Morrell’s Eyecon

Georgie Morrell is a hilarious stand up comedian who isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself. Her work fuses light and dark humour with a focus on disabled issues drawn from her own experience.

“I am attempting to change people’s perspective on disability. I use humour as it makes trickier subject matters more accessible. I try to get people to see the individual and not their disability.”

Morrell provides her audiences with fresh, challenging standpoints on disability and strives to quash out-dated misconceptions. Her latest one woman show Eyecon is about the fall of a famous disabled performer, comedian and style icon ‘Georgie Morrell’. The protagonist is loosely based on Morrell herself.

‘Georgie’ has catapulted herself into the heights of fame and celebrity, appearing on the cover of Vogue, starring in her own TV show Poke Your Eyes, and even consulting for the United Nations. However this rise has not provided her with modesty or morals; this icon is setting herself up for a plummeting fall from grace. Riotous, unapologetic and side-splittingly funny, Morrell pours fuel onto the fire, and sets disability taboos alight.

Photo of the underground performing art space

Vault Festival

From hosting shows about magicians to mothers, the VAULT creative team is committed to creating a festival of artists and audiences that truthfully represents London and our society. Year on year they provide a platform for a multitude of artists from different backgrounds, allowing their stories and voices to be heard in one of the hippest arts spaces around.

At the forefront of this festival is the desire to create a space that is accessible to artists and audiences. As Festival Director Mat Burt put it:

“Diversity is not about meeting targets and ticking boxes. It’s an on going commitment to the present and the future to continue to effect positive change in our society and industry.”

VAULT Festival runs from 24 January to 18 March. There are a multitude of VAULT shows that are offering Extra Live and Relaxed performances. All venues across VAULT Festival including the Vaults, Network Theatre and Waterloo East Theatre are wheelchair accessible.

The performances of The Caravan Theatre, Soul In The Van, Rubber and Wrecked are situated in external vehicle venues so entry assistance may be required for those with mobility issues.

VAULT offers free accompanying personal assistant/companion tickets, so please let them know in advance if you would like someone to accompany you. Contact their friendly Front of House team (help@vaultfestival.com) in advance if you have any questions or requirements. For more information on accessibility, please see the Vaults Festival accessibility page.