There’s something very different in the air when you’re at a performance that is so obviously filled with family and friends. Alongside the usual bubble of chatter there’s repeated shouts of “yes, yes I know the director” or “oh they’ve been working so hard, I can’t wait to see it”. It also means that reactions during the performance can be a little over the top; the laughter more extreme, reactions to saucy moments slightly more laden with embarrassment than usual. And this is very much my experience during The Vaults’ I Lost My Virginity To Chopin’s Nocturne In B-Flat Minor. Perhaps I just noticed it more as I was in my seat for a very long time, due to the show starting 15 minutes late!
Situated underneath Waterloo Station, you can expect a slightly dank, drippy and rustic experience! Upon passing through the main entrance, there is a very dark walk through a tunnel to find a staircase to the actual theatre. I befriended a stranger along the way so it wasn’t quite so creepy – a few more lights wouldn’t have gone amiss. With the long wait and the increasing noise levels in the tunnel-like theatre, I admit I’m not in the best of moods by the time the show started. But, as any theatre-goer should, I put this aside as soon as Sebastian Gardner ran onto the strange in a state of frenzied activity.
I Lost My Virginity To Chopin’s Nocturne In B-Flat Minor follows the unfolding of a savage argument between Ollie (Sebastian Gardner, who also wrote the play) and Laura (Alana Chokarian) after a disastrous lunch with Laura’s parents. What transpires over the next hour is an argument filled with lines all too familiar to many, along with comments hard to recover from. The dialogue is witty, razor-sharp, and wholly believable. And the argument’s pacing is spot on, you’re in the palm of their hands as they fire crushing statements at one another. As Ollie tells Laura he hates her, she spits back “when I look at you, I feel nothing”, resulting in audible gasps from the audience.
As I’ve mentioned, the audience for this sole Vaults performance (the show heads off for a small tour next) are incredibly enthusiastic, but some things do get lost as a result. Ollie’s amusing comments about his masculinity leads to him talking seriously about male suicide. Through the roars of laughter, I hear some statistics about male suicide, but it just isn’t clear if we should still be laughing at this moment. I fear the eager to please audience might have lost some of the script’s nuances.
While the play begins four years into their relationship, the show’s finale transports us to the night they met. Or to be precise, the moment after they’ve slept together and she’s hunting for something to drink in his flat. It’s incredibly funny, perfectly capturing the awkwardness of the situation. Without the intensity of the love and hate displayed in the fights earlier on, it presents a chance to relax and really enjoy the obvious chemistry between these two young actors.
Gardner and Chokarian are intrinsic to the show’s success. They manage to masterfully keep the pace of the argument while still keeping us aware of the love that remains, all despite the vile language flying between them. I left the theatre completely believing in their relationship and wondering what happens to them next.
Written by: Sebastian Gardner
Directed by: Ami Okumura Jones
Produced by: Sam Edmunds
I Lost My Virginity To Chopin’s Nocturne In B-Flat Minor was on for one show only at The Vaults, before heading to Oxford, Manchester and Hampshire. Further details and all dates can be found on the company’s website below.