One of these is the Network Theatre, in the adjoining tunnels, and the Morley College, an adult education college nearby in Lambeth North. Previously the festival model focused on week-long runs and that’s still the case, but this year there will be more opportunity for shorter runs.
“It’s about creating the least pressurised environment to make work in,” says George.
“For some it’s about early feedback and a relaxed atmosphere” – he cites Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna as examples – “and for others it’s a destination. Our job is to make it work for both of those parties.” While Vault was not set up to be a competitor to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
There’s a pressure to turn up with as honed and polished work as possible.
“With the Vault Festival, you have the freedom to mess about,” he says. I did my first play, Ghost City, here and they made it amazingly easy.
“We wanted to make it as big as possible and to have as many people presenting work here as possible, because that’s the idea behind it.
This year, we had more than 500 people apply, which is far more than we have room for in the programme.” To address this demand, this year the festival will expand into new spaces – some above ground. The preponderance of the programme will still be here in this building, but this gives us leeway to try different things.” These new spaces, chips in George, will “allow us to have more slots for scratches and things that are still works in progress”.
Ticket prices are low, with £9 and £12 common price points, which means you can see a couple of shows and have a couple of pints and still not spend more than £30, he adds.
This is down in part to the environment they’ve created in what is essentially a rather damp and grungy warren of tunnels. The design of the venue, different every year, contributes to that.“Skin a Cat had been turned down by everyone I’d sent it to.We couldn’t afford to hire a space, we couldn’t afford Edinburgh either, and if we’d taken it there it might have been lost in all the noise, anyway.The passageway also contains the enticingly illuminated, come-hither entrance to the series of tunnels and chambers beneath Waterloo Station that, for the next six weeks, will play host to the Vault Festival, an increasingly significant fixture in the theatre year. The subterranean space is now home to a vast and eclectic programme of new writing, circus, comedy, cinema and music.This year’s line-up ranges from a large-scale, immersive take on F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby presented by the Guild of Misrule and the Immersive Ensemble to an early opportunity to see new work by James Rowland – whose last show was the exquisite, heart-squishing Team Viking – to new plays from emerging writers such as Tim Foley and Camilla Whitehill.“If you’re not quite ready to do five or 10 days, then one or two nights here can still give you some really useful feedback while not having to worry about spiralling costs.” Minimising upfront costs is at the core of the Vault Festival model.