How can we expect villains to change if we continue to treat them like villains? This is the question posed by the comedy-drama Villain, Interrupted. Produced by Dolls in Amber, this play was originally staged in 2019, and between the pandemic and the cancellation of Vaults last year is finally being seen at the festival in 2023.

Visually, the production does a lot with a small space; author KT Roberts doubles as a puppeteer, using an old-fashioned projector as a tool for shadow puppetry, which gives an otherwise limited space dynamism. The play is set in a Marvel-style universe, and the projection style sets up the world as a comic book black-and-white world of binaries. What excitement, then, as our supervillains develop into more nuanced characters, to see the projection take on a Wizard of Oz transformation into colour. It’s a simple but effective storytelling technique; not merely aesthetic, it lays out the world clearly and complements the storytelling.

The play itself deals with supervillains in therapy working towards rehabilitation that they know society will never grant them. The allegory for the injustices of our own prison system is clear, but the transposition to a universe that parodies the binaries of our fiction allows more comedy than such an issue normally does. Inevitably, there are difficulties with the therapy set-up; it is a familiar one, and the play’s structure never really strays from where we know it will go. Gina, the therapist, will discover the villains’ motivations, draw the nuance out of their characters, and in the process learn about herself. Not everyone in Roberts’ world is redeemable, nor do they all need redeeming, but the central storyline of therapist and patient between Gina and Seth lacks excitement. A curveball in their relationship would liven it; the narrative, although good, is familiar.

Villain, Interrupted would benefit from expansion beyond the hour of a Vaults show; the places where the show struggles are when it tries to cram too much in. Roberts opens at the end with a press investigation into the prison riots that Gina allegedly had no part in. From here, we expect a much more politicised look at the role of the press in demonising the villains, but there simply isn’t time. The choice to focus on relationships is a sensible one and pays dividends – Roberts’ characters are clearly drawn with great dialogue for everyone, which is not easy with a full cast over an hour – but there is a sense of a wider story to be plumbed with more time. The final plot reveal is slightly too obvious early on, which scuppers the suspense set up by the flashback structure. Again, a long slot would allow a slower world-build and seeding that would help the play to blossom.

Roberts’s dialogue is buttressed by the character work of director Micha Mirto; they are well-matched as a pair. Mirto draws characters in broad, clear strokes from multi-roling actors with physicality and vocal work that enhances the script and allows a wide world to exist in a small physical and temporal space. Actors multi-roling within a scene is common, and it is a credit to Roberts and Mirto that this staging never feels proscribed or unclear. Good performances back this up, of course, unified under Mirto’s distinctive style.

Dolls in Amber have proved themselves creatively with this one, with innovative ideas in staging and clear, fun characterisation in writing and performance. It’s worth, then, saying a word about the trajectory of this show. Villain, Interrupted has been on a journey beset with difficulty since its inception in 2019. It’s fantastic that it was able to make it to the stage this time around, using the space as it was meant, for emerging artists to make innovative theatre to develop their practice, and here we have the result: an exciting partnership, innovative visuals, and a world ready for further exploration. It’s a vital reminder of the function that Vaults serves in developing work and artists, and how important it is that this festival does not die.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


VAULT Festival has been left without a venue for 2024’s festival and beyond
• VAULT Festival have launched a #SaveVAULT campaign
• The campaign aims are to raise £150,000 by 19th March to support the festival’s survival AND to secure a new home for the festival to continue.
• You can help by donating, helping access funding networks, and helping then find a venue.
• You are officially implored to make the most of 2023’s Festival while it lasts!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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