This weekend marks the exciting first weekend of VAULT Festival, and there are some great shows kicking off the festival. Here we talk to playwright, Chris, and director, Matt, about their chemsex "Queer Noir", Tumulus.
What drove you to make Tumulus?
Chris: I was interested in the legacy of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. As we move farther away in time from its devastation, we think that it has less and less effect on our lives. But the trauma of AIDS still plays out in numerous ways in the lives of gay people today. I was particularly interested in exploring how shame and external stigma translate into internalised homophobia and impact the way that we relate (or not) to each other. Also: I wanted to make a play with a central first-person narrator, and find ways to queer film noir tropes.
Matt: A desire to experiment with how theatre can explore the darker elements of modern life. The play’s story is located in London’s chemsex scene, but the experience of the characters—feelings of being alone, disconnected and searching for community—is universal and exacerbated by features in a world increasingly dominated by digital rather than human space.
Who is Tumulus for?
Chris: On one level, Tumulus is for the gay community--an artistic response chemsex. But the play is also an exploration of intimacy and connection (or the lack thereof) in the digital era, and so I think it speaks to a broad audience of people who have to navigate online worlds, city life, and the alienation of modernity.
Matt: People who are interested in innovative writing explores important social issues. Tumulus is relevant to anyone interested in how technology shapes the sex lives of gay men who embrace the chemsex scene in London.
What’s the most important thing that theatre should be/do/have?
Chris: A narrative and structure that engages the audience artistically and challenges them intellectually.
Matt: It should plunge audiences into worlds that surprise and challenge them. People should leave inspired and provoked with conversations about what has been viewed that last well past the production itself.
If you had to make a new show, what CURRENT news story would you like to make a show about?
The #MeToo movement. Definitely.
What theatre ‘turn offs’ do you have?
Shows that should have remained Guardian articles.
What was the last show that moved you to action?
Isley Lynn’s Skin a Cat, Stephen Laughton’s Run, and Sarah Kosar’s Human Suit have all challenged me to re-think what theatre can say and how it can say it. They made me want to experiment with a new way of writing, the result of which is Tumulus.
What shows at VAULT are you looking forward to?
Definitely want to catch Dietrich: Natural Duty (@NaturalDuty) and Ian Bonar’s Be Prepared (@BePreparedPlay). @HelloMozart has put together a very helpful list of LGBTQ+ shows at VAULT that I’d love to dip into. Also, Tumulus will be published in the Nick Hern collection Plays from VAULT 3. I’m looking forward to seeing the four other shows in the collection: Lucy Burke’s Glitter Punch (#GlitterPunch); Burkas and Bacon Butties (#BBBVaults) by Shamia Chalabi and Sarah Henley; Wind Bit Bitter, Bit Bit Bit Her (@coughdropstage) by Sami Ibrahim, and Stephanie Jacob’s The Strongbox (@strongboxplay).
Tumulus runs from 24-28 Jan at 21.20, with a saturday matinee!