The Vault Festival is back January 2022

By James Haddrell

Over the past 18 months, I and others have written huge amounts about the impact of the pandemic on the theatre industry.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

As we approach pantomime season, which for us is the biggest period of the year by far, attention is again turned to the huge economic and social importance of festive theatre.

Many theatres around the country are open because of the revenue generated by their one seasonal production, staff levels are at their highest, employment for actors surges with companies hiring larger casts, and many families make their one theatre trip of the year.

Without pantomime and Christmas theatre, all of that is lost. Last year, theatres were kept alive by the goodwill of audiences making donations and funders like Arts Council England lending vital support.

This year, venues are selling tickets again, rehearsing shows, and anticipating the return of great live audiences.

However, while the greatest political and emotive case is often made by big numbers (the revenue lost in a year without pantomime, the millions not attending live performance, the countless actors and theatre practitioners out of work) it is easy to lose sight of what is arguably even more important – the early career writers, directors, designers, producers, stage managers and performers who hone their craft in smaller venues and build a CV before moving on to bigger things.

At Greenwich, we lost almost a million pounds while Covid closed us, but we were supported through it.

We are now getting back to somewhere close to our position of two years ago, albeit with a major fundraising target ahead of us, but for someone starting out, losing two years of career development and learning can be far more damaging.

One of the most valuable training grounds for emerging artists is the festival circuit, and of course all of the festivals have been dormant too (though with some elements moving online and some small capacity distanced events presented).

This week’s announcement that Vault Festival is back in January 2022 is therefore not only exciting news but important too.

Presented in a labyrinth of spaces under Waterloo, Vault Festival was growing exponentially before Covid and, for my money, in 10 years it has already surpassed Brighton and others to become the UK’s second most important fringe festival (second only to the behemoth that is Edinburgh).

The first wave of shows to be announced – from the promised 600 – offers a taster of what to expect, and many of the artists bringing shows to the festival are tackling major issues including racism and loaded language, the debate over ownership of artworks in our major galleries, addiction, abortion and bullying. At the same time the comedy programme includes everything from clowning to stand-up, with more shows set to be announced later this month.

In particular, look out for Tiger Lady by Dead Rabbits Theatre going on sale soon. A huge hit with audiences when it played at Greenwich earlier this year (the one-night-only crowd gave a standing ovation), the show tells the true story of Mabel Stark, the circus tiger tamer.

A full festival programme can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. How do you choose what to see? If my advice is worth anything, I’d grab a ticket for Tiger Lady before they all go, and then pick at least one more show and support the emerging theatre stars of the future.

Go to for tickets.


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