The Vaults, London – until 12 January 2020
Reviewed by Serena Norgren
“The Prince has ruled for a thousand days, to celebrate his reign, the Red Palace is hosting a masquerade ball of fantastical proportions”. The Palace is an immersive dining show set in the atmospheric Vaults, once part of Waterloo Station. Stepping into the venue you are transported into a gothic world with a glass of prosecco in hand and anonymous behind a Venetian mask. The venue, has been transformed into a fairy tale palace complete with ball room and VIP dining area but there is no pink nor princesses on display here.
After an excellent dinner (created by Masterchef semi-finalist Annie Mackenzie) the story telling begins with the Prince (Eleanor Dillon-Reams) recounting the prophecy of his reign. The audience are then encouraged to visit various spaces within the palace to learn more about the machinations and plotting going on from characters straight out of the Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm playbook, but with a twist. The bizarre Seer, Baba Yaga (Porscha Present) tells us of the terrible things the prince has done; Red, played by Emily Essery, brings you into her confidence about her intentions in the damp and chilling Forest. Steffi Walker makes for a marvellous mermaid in the Bathhouse recounting the quest for her lover in a hilariously macabre fashion from her decadent bathtub. The “sets”, if that’s what you call each room, are undeniably good and the performers convincing as they weave their macabre tales in a sybaritic yet threatening atmosphere. It is easy to get carried away, although from time to time it is confusing and not altogether clear what or where the audience are supposed to do or go. This does not detract from the frisson, enhanced by the cavernous and damp nature of the venue.
The denouement at the end is no surprise (although no spoilers!) leaving the audience feeling up beat and left to dance the rest of the night away in celebration while the bar continues to serve cocktails and more prosecco.
This all women, non-binary cast combines improvisation, physicality and energy in a multidimensional space with aplomb. Notable are Joanna Vymeris as Cat: despite her mask often getting in the way of being able to hear her, compensates for this with her feline physicality. Emily Essery’s Red, a sort of Joan of Arc meets Red Riding Hood figure is both fragile and fearless while Steffi Walker’s Mermaid is charming, comedic and deadly all at the same time.
The production can’t really be described as some of the press claims: “to be a look behind the mask to explore power, duplicity, and the complexity of identity” but it certainly “sheds the binds of gender and sexual conformity to release a world of pleasure and freedom” and makes for a jolly good night out!