"Love, lies, loneliness and bats"
by Michael Gray for remotegoat on 21/02/19

Amongst the myriad happenings at this year’s Vault Festival, this gem, almost site-specific in the long Cavern.
The stage is dotted with little islands of domesticity: rugs, breakfast, an iron, a 50s phone, piles of books. It’s the family home of Andy, pushing forty, a hoarder and a nerdy expert on bats.

But the piece begins and ends in a dark tunnel, home to Myotis myotis, the greater mouse-eared bat, sole UK survivor of his species.

Easy to imagine bats up there in the gloomy Victorian arches; they’re just audible on the sound-scape, over the rumble of suburban trains. A shock torch-lit confrontation between the conservationist and a young rough sleeper. Which develops into an unlikely, but movingly convincing, relationship. Josh is a compulsive liar, and a thief, too, it turns out. Alan is a loner, unaccustomed to sharing his space – people don’t stay, or make him breakfast, or bring him his post, or talk. He almost takes pride in his unconnectedness with Josh’s cultural world, in not having a comfort zone. Like Geoff the bat, he’s sexually inactive - “but that doesn’t make him a loser...”

The parallels between our world and the bat’s are cleverly suggested, but just as we think that this odd couple are headed for a happy ending, their life together unravels. Waking in mid-hibernation can be fatal. Geoff’s tunnel, and Alan’s ancestral home, are both threatened by a new bypass, Vespertilionidae can turn out to be vampires.
Barry McStay’s play is laced with humour; the pace varies from learned lecture to a quick-fire series of vignettes as Alan is brought up to speed with Josh’s norms: buying leather, smoking a joint, phoning out for a pizza, watching Harry Potter. Towards the end, it seems almost as if the playwright didn’t want their story to finish, and indeed we’re left unsatisfied, with hollow promises of bat bridges and a brighter future.

Lucy Jane Atkinson directs a superb duo: Benedict Salter as the bat-man, with his cardigan and his lopsided smile, Joshua Oakes-Rogers as the unhappy youth, nervy and fatally charismatic. We desperately want them to find happiness but suspect that it will prove as elusive as the truth about their lives before that chance encounter in a Sussex tunnel.

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