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Vault festival review: The Dog and the Elephant

Jack Johns in The Dog and the Elephant

There is something extra special about going to see something at the Vaults beneath the railway lines behind Waterloo Station. Moodily lit, with trains rumbling overhead this maze of performance spaces connected by cafe and break out areas feels like a secret creative club with the graffiti artists of Leake Street guarding the entrance.

A one man show like The Dog and the Elephant suits the space perfectly. Set in the seedy underworld of Victorian bare knuckle fighting you could imagine the vaults being used for such illicit sport.

Matt Grinter's play follows the story of Bendigo 'dog' Barlow a boy who stammers and stutters, involuntary releasing expletives and soon finds communication is best done with his fists. His mother is having an affair with a priest and his father doesn't seem to care.

He is drawn into a gypsy community where his skills with his fists prove useful. There is money to be made fighting and settling scores for people. He constructs himself a life forming bonds of sorts with some of the gypsies but the strongest bonds are with animals.

An affair of the heart leads him to another community, a travelling menagerie, where he meets Inga the Elephant and the two become inseparable .

Jack John's performance as Bendigo reminded me a little of Harry Melling to start, something in the tone of his voice and the delivery. There is a twitchy energy, a cheeky grin which act as a cover for deeper emotional hurt and loneliness. In this intimate space he can fix you with his gaze as if you are the only person listening to the tale.

This is powerful story telling, simply done. You get drawn quickly into Bendigo's world of warped justice, friendship, loyalty and hurt, seeing life through his eyes; it held me rapt for its 60 minutes running time.

Take a wander into the Vaults underworld - the festival runs until March 8 - and while you are there take a wander into the world of Bendigo. The Dog and the Elephant runs at the Vaults festival until Feb 15.