Review: The Silver Bell, VAULT Festival

Alan Flanagan blends gay rom-com with sci-fi odyssey to gorgeous effect in The Silver Bell at the VAULT Festival

“Bascially whenever you make a decision, the universe splits into different versions of events”

I hated physics at school. And even now (and even as a fan of sci-fi), the mere mention of scientific jargon can bring me out in a cold sweat. But Alan Flanagan gently folds his version of sci-fi in The Silver Bell into a gay rom-com and asks us to take a trustfall with him into the unknown. The result is light on heavy science and heavy on light charm, as he explores how far we’re willing to go for ‘the one’.

We first meet scientist Mico and actor James as a well-established couple, bickering about how to tell the story of their relationship, squabbling over minor details in their very cute meet-cute, seizing the initiative to lead on tangents about the poor Brockley Jack theatre or vibrant landladies in Vauxhall. And then a wrinkle emerges, a punch to the stomach comes but rather than wallow in queer tragedy, a distinct left turn is taken.

Without wishing to give too much away, for there’s powerful emotional beats at these reveals, the embrace of the multiverse is boldly done but lightly worn (this isn’t the place to consider the impact of temporal paradoxes). Instead, there’s a gently compelling odyssey of sorts, a journey to try and combat grief and what it can do to our worlds, to explore the boundaries of deep, death-defying, soul-shaking love.

Dan Hutton’s direction plays confidently with narrative voice, the interplay between the couple but also between past and present and between multiple worlds, Amy Hill’s powerfully effective lighting design aiding the last immeasurably. And Flanagan (as Mico) and Brendan O’Rourke (as James(s)) are tenderly great, a sincerity to their performances even in the comic moments, which underscores the gravity of the emotional connection here.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
The Silver Bell is booking at VAULT Festival until 12th February

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