Red Palace at The Vaults: ‘A superb night out, but an unchallenging theatrical experience’
For four months The Vaults are to be the wonton abode of the mysterious and maleficent Prince and his posse of scandalous sidekicks and conspirators. You are invited, at the behest of His Highness, to partake in a ceremony of prandial luxuriance, seductive storytelling and vinous excess that would flush the cheeks of Dionysus himself.
Awaiting my admission to the Prince’s palace, I overheard a fellow guest seeking palace guard’s assurance that he could expect to remain clothed for the duration of the evening. Such was the tone of the night. Clothes are indeed expected, in fact, guests are encouraged to don a mask, their finest stitches and a ‘devilish alter-ego’. Beyond that, the evening is an open fantasy.
Throughout the ritzy three-course meal, accompanied by intermittent visits from the Prince’s pets and paladins, I felt less of a devilish alter-ego, more of a budget Anton Ego. The feast, the design of Masterchef semi-finalist and ‘gastro-storyteller’ Annie McKenzie, was not underwhelming and (despite the plastic beakers of wine – presumably lest the nobles become too gladiatorial) garnished the spectacle well. But it remains unclear to me to what extent the ‘gastro’ and the ‘storytelling’ really came together. Granted, the characters were present at the meal, they were entertaining, but its yoking to the broader story was tenuous. The VIP dining experience, though richly rewarding, was more of a pre-show plump up than a break with storytelling conventions.
The rest of the show (covered by the General Admission ticket) was a whirlpool promenade piece taking place across multiple rooms within the labyrinthine Red Palace. Permanent access to the bar guaranteed a festival feel to the whole ordeal, and the actors must be praised for their handling of the inebriated, largely anonymous audience. This has its disadvantages, naturally. Each room had a unique creative ecosystem of its own, and the performances were bold and invested.
But with a promenade piece of this scale it’s easy to feel disorientated. There can be little discernible order to the various sites, or for that matter much of a coherent narrative tying everything together, and the whole denouement left me feeling a bit fuddled.
For all its sexy sophistication and daring resolution, Red Palace is a superb night out in one of London’s hottest fringe creative spaces. Its potential is enormous. But for all the culinary courtliness, decorum and decadence the piece leaves a thirst for thought unsatiated. In spite of all the lewdness and flare, I felt unchallenged by a theatrical experience that threatened to spin my senses and strip me of my labels.
You too can visit the Red Palace until 12 January, 2020.
Photo Credit: Nick Kane