REVL Meets Kieron Vanstone
Lurking underneath Waterloo Station is a vast series of tunnels. Huge spaces that are damp, cold and a little bit smelly, and supposedly used to store dead bodies. But all of that hasn’t stopped The Vaults from opening one of the best cultural spaces in the city within them, and it’s all thanks to one man and three years of hard graft. Kieron Vanstone is the man at the helm. His solo show has paid off too, and the tunnels are now a multi-disciplinary space with a cult following that hosts a variety of theatre shows, weird and wonderful events and immersive experiences.
“I used to work at the Old Vic Tunnels, and when that place closed in March 2013, I picked up some of the shows that we were cancelling and dumped them over here, in a more ceremonious way, of course.” Vanstone is clearly passionate about the space and he worked completely alone for over a year to get the space to where it is today. He says it’s still a work-in-progress. Vanstone’s energy isn’t what you might expect from a guy who has single-handedly run one of the biggest spaces in central London either; he’s chilled, polite and happy to help everyone working around him. “I have to be a dick a lot of the time and that’s really tough.” We don’t believe it.
There’s always a lot going on at The Vaults. Always. On a typical night there could be a private event in one tunnel, a show in the theatre space and an immersive dining experience in the restaurant area. “The trick with the programme is to make sure we’ve got a balance between shows we produce ourselves and private events.” And the creative, raw and maybe macabre reputation that The Vaults has acquired is ultimately down to this variety of shows. “The smell, dust and water are all part of the charm, or I’d like to think so.” It definitely is and something you just have to embrace (though honestly it’s not even that bad!) “There’s something about being underground that brings out the naughtiness in people here, ” Vanstone says with a smirk. The tunnels regularly host themed immersive experiences that encourage attendees to get involved and wander around the space. They’ve also hosted a morning rave for Kids, which was just as crazy.
The weirdest show he’s put on to date was ‘Sing For Your Life’ he tells me, a musical comedy featuring taxidermy puppets. “Taxidermy artist Charlie Tuesday Gates is a complete nutjob, so I offered a studio space here.” The show was a one-hour production that told the heartbreaking stories of the dead animals. The show held a powerful message and was received really well, so the pair took it to Edinburgh Fringe too.
Vanstone’s work doesn’t stop there either, while he likes to think of himself as a ‘delegator’, he’s already looking for the next shows to book. Watch out for huge immersive productions like Alice’s Adventures Underground and smaller plays like the brilliant adaption of Irvene Welsh’s novel Trainspotting at the end of this year.
Now, with a power team of two to assist him, Vanstone’s Vaults can only go from strength-to-strength. And if you haven’t discovered them yet, you must. No excuses.
Three Secrets from The Vaults:
- The Vaults isn’t actually underground.
The area around Waterloo used to be marsh land, just look at the surrounding street names for proof. Leake Street, Lower Marsh, Upper Marsh. The tunnels were actually built to hold the station building up above ground level, so even though it feels like you’re going underground, you’re not.
- There used to be a train line that transported dead bodies out of the city here.
“So there was a train line called the Necropolis Line and it was a train line that opened in 1854 and it was built, literally, to transport bodies out of the centre of London to a cemetery in Surrey. They did that for 40-50 years because of the overcrowding here. The embellishment goes that they would’ve used our space for storage of the bodies before they moved them on.”
- The Vaults is tiny.
“There are a whole series of tunnels next to ours. We’re a tiny, tiny portion of the station.”
Want more? Visit The Vaults on Leake St any day to check out their gallery or book tickets to their current dining experience, Dinner With The Twits now;