Vault Festival – INTERVIEW – Surfacing

This week the Vault Festival in London kicked off and runs all the way through until the 19th March 2023. Over the next month, we have interviews with acts that are performing at the event. Today we find out all about the show Surfacing


Dates: 14th-19th February
Time: 19:50, 19:10, 14:50
Venue: Studio

Hello! Tell us about SURFACING


When Luc, an NHS therapist, meets Owen, a new service-user, his story reminds her of all the things she’s kept buried. The next day she nearly drowns and when she surfaces, her whole reality is different… It explores neurodivergency, disassociation and the pressure to ‘get better’.

It involves pioneering motion sensor generated sound that evoke experiences of disassociation and hallucination as Luc’s whole world changes.

All performances are relaxed, captioned, and include integrated audio-description. 

SURFACING is written by Papatango Prize Winner 2021 Tom Powell (‘A modest masterpiece’ 5* – The Stage for The Silence and The Noise), and directed by RTST Sir Peter Hall winner 2022 Stephen Bailey, his first public work since the announcement, and produced by his company ASYLUM.

We’re pretty proud of it.

How did you come up with the name of your show that you’re taking to Vault?

Tom: When I was younger, I was very bad at waking up. Even when I seemed to be conscious, I would be somewhere else – often behaving out of character. My Mum used to say that I was just surfacing. I guess the idea that my self was just coming back to me, or I was coming back from somewhere else. 

When we started working on a piece that has a turning point of the world changing after near-drowning, it seemed like a natural title. Water is often associated with the subconscious, too, which we were exploring. I’ll stop speaking – artist Bjorn Bauer has really captured what I’m talking about in the poster art.

Tells us a little bit about your style of show?

Tom: It’s a journey from a recognisable reality to a psychological one – we are vividly depicting the inside of someone’s skull. Luc’s skull. That’s one way of thinking about it anyway, but regardless, it’s a great place to be. It’s full of shape-shifting shadows, terrifying sequences, a passive-aggressive boss, and some brilliant surprises. 

Stephen: It’s definitely theatrical. There’s something about the imagined spaces that theatre creates that works particularly well when exploring mental health. We also were very keen to explore where we could show an experience or its feeling rather than just having Luc describe what’s happening to her. Smoke, bubbles, remote control car, packing peanuts. Big thanks to TK Hay for his great contributions. But we still get to punctuate it with focused moments of Tom’s writing, and Dan and Rosie are a phenomenal cast.

What will your set be about?

No spoilers, but our set will feature some giant mice, at least one of which has taken a lot of ketamine. 

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

Stephen: I’m cheating but ASYLUM also is producing It’s a Motherf**king Pleasure by FlawBored which explores access in theatre and identities in social media as a dark comedy about ‘making blindness sexy’.

We’ll Be Who We Are by Naomi Obeng and produced by Wolab will also be excellent – a lot of talent in that team.

Tom’s really excited about the OPIA Collective’s Lali. He also would be excited about Simon Jaggers’ Gun To Your Head, but we’re in clashing slots so never mind. 

Have you done the Vault Festival before? What have been some of your favourite shows to date and why?

Stephen: I did Access Platform with Amy Bethan Evans which presented several short pieces by disabled writers. I remember being driven around in a car with Tom for Rubber when we were starting work on Little Echoes? Sexy Lamp, Fatty Fat Fat and Splintered were all shows I first saw here that have had loads of success since.

Tom: I wrote a short response piece for Little Writes Lies, back in the day, that was a joy. The Vaults were a good place for a flat-share cannibalism comedy, back before Timothée Chalamet made cannibalism cool and sexy.  

Cordelia Lynn’s Best Served Cold was gripping and searing, and used one of the big beautiful VAULT spaces to great effect.

Silent Faces are amazing, any chance you get to see their work you should. 

There’s always great stuff – part of the joy is the surprise. 

What advice would you give to others who want to perform at Vault next year?

Tom: You will need to send in an application. 

Otherwise? I don’t know. One of the best things about Vault is the community of artists, people seeing each other’s shows, and all the rest. So champion other people and they’ll champion you. 

Stephen: I’ve had a lot of rejections from Vault! So I’m not really sure. Glad to be doing a full show (twice delayed since 2021). I think as I’ve run my own company more, planning has become really important. VAULT takes submissions in the summer so you need to be planning before. And then the logistics once they accept you. We had our Arts Council turned down but had just enough time to resubmit and found out we had funding last week. But I had a few sleepless nights before that.

I will say that once they want you, they’re great at making accommodations and supporting you.

What is the best thing about performing at the Vault Festival?

Tom: There’s a lot of great work, the atmosphere is intense and brilliance, and people go and support each other’s shows. I can’t wait to see lots of the brilliant work that’ll be there. 

Stephen: It’s just nice to see one of the biggest events in fringe theatre back. There’s going to be work in this festival that you’ll be hearing about for years. I think if you do socialising and networking it’s good for that too.

What are your three favourite things about London? 

People say great things about the Coca-Cola London Eye, but for us it’s the Shard. We’ll be going up the Shard three or four times per hour during rehearsal, to help give us perspective.

So I guess:

  1. The Shard
  2. The Shard
  3. Lift (at the Shard)

Favourite one liner you have done in a show and why?

It’s not funny but there is a serious moment when our protagonist, Luc, has a pretty deep realisation and announces:

“No rodent should be given that much ketamine.”

It’s profound, really. 

Who would be your ultimate dream audience member?

Because of the show and its presentation, we’d love some giant mice to be in attendance and to watch their kin on stage. The great thing about performing at the VAULTs means that this is actually not impossible. 

If people want to find out more about you, where can they follow you on social media?

We’re on Twitter. Of course we are. We have to be. But we have fun with it…




And finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?

It’s f**king brilliant.

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