Opening on derelict ground littered with graffiti and a confetti of cans, it’s difficult to deduce where the space of The Vaults starts and where set design ends, in what is a poetic symbiosis of performance and staging. A metal barricade acts as the only barrier to the outside world, a physical and psychological symbol of segregation and control.
Set against the backdrop of the Oldham riots, this dilapidated park becomes the kingdom and haven of friends Hammad (Shiv Rabheru) and Michael (Samuel Retford); the Kings of Idle Land. The word ‘idle’ is used not only in the literal sense, but also ironically, as writer & director Conor Hunt shows how both young men possess some of the most valuable moral principles of society; an inclusive acceptance of others, progressive growth and uncompromising love. Similarly, the word ‘king’ multi-roles, not only as a juxtaposition of the word ‘queen;’ a slang term that can either be pejorative or celebrated, but also to show the powerful ownership both characters come to have over their identity.
There is a beautifully choreographed sequence by movement director Felipe Pacheco that captures all the mundane activity of idling away time, whilst simultaneously capturing the energy of male friendship, supressed emotion and a palpable sexual tension. It is both naturalistic yet stylised and is executed beautifully. Rabheru and Retford are accomplished actors, delivering truthful, relatable and endearing performances. Although dialogue is occasionally lost- a combination of unclear vocals and general acoustics – this natural delivery of lines is always preferable to the stilted alternative that is still found in theatre performances today. Skilful direction from Hunt means the ‘first kiss’ is felt by the auditorium and not just limited to the partakers, and despite not having a dedicated wardrobe/make-up department, careful thought has obviously been placed into each scene and change of costume.
It’s been almost 20 years since the Oldham riots, yet the number of hate crimes recorded by regional police forces has risen by up to 100 per cent. It seems obvious therefore that such work needs a platform outside of London, as stories like Hammad’s and Michael’s are vital now more than ever.