Many, many years ago when Secret Cinema was secret and affordable I had the local mini cab company drop me at the location, indicated by a series of oblique emails, of the evening’s festivities. My lovely driver was horrified. “No, no Lady,” he implored, “you can not get out. It is too dangerous.” He was quite insistent. Of course I was even more insistent. And I had my brawny husband with me for protection. So out of the cab I raced….and into the other wordly Old VicTunnels.
Years later and many, many more events attended, these dark, wet tunnels under Waterloo Station have been renamed “The Vaults,” and are anything but a no-go zone. The hip spot for art and alternative theatre , pop up restaurants and parties, and yes, circus. The long entry way is still very popular with young men who are handy with the spray paint, often to exquisite results, but the atmosphere is more intentionally seedy than actually nefarious.
The film on the night above was The Battle of Algiers, a French film in black and white chronicling the start of the Algerian uprising. Made in 1966….however….I don’t think I need to state the obvious. The tunnels on the night were transformed into a kasbah. A dark, spooky, scary kasbah. with shouting French soliders and veiled women carrying bombs. And despite the fact that it all seemed a bit too real at time, I loved it. And loved the tunnels. And vowed to go to back. As often as I could.
But it is not a place for happy, in the traditional sense at least. Bedlam, an art exhibit on the treatment of the mentally ill through the ages, was made all the more tragic by the coldness of the walls and the darkness in the corners. Fiona Shaw’s moving, physical rendition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner left us no doubt as to the narrator’s despair. Another night I followed a modern dance troupe through the cavernous spaces as they used their bodies to re-enact Brian Keenan’s book An Evil Cradling on his time as hostage in Iran. The fact that the walls were actually dripping with water from the pouring rain outside made what we were watching, entitled Without Warning, even more catch in your throat frightening.
Lately, I like to pop down the stairs from the station just to see the recent street art, which is always on a grand scale.
This past summer I saw a short circus performance. Which wasn’t at all scary. Until the circus ended and a band started up. Suddenly everyone of a certain age disappeared. “Lucy,” I shouted to my friend, “we have to go. Someone is going to think I am the singer’s mother.”
But hey, I was there before it was cool and rebranded. I suppose I can let the kids have the tunnels for a while. But I will be back. For something fabulous, I am sure.