Review: Vespertilio (King’s Head Player)

Barry McStay’s play Vespertilio, first staged at the Vault Festival in 2019, is a two-hander about bats, vampires, gay life, lies, and displacement.

What does the title mean? It’s a type of bat, which makes sense when our two characters, Alan, a thirty-nine year old chiropterologist (bat expert) and Josh, a student who is homeless, meet in the depths of the caves in which the creatures make their home.

I can see how The Vaults would have been a perfect venue, with its dark and damp recesses; but the King’s Head has been dressed by Verity Johnson, and lit by Zia Bergin-Holly, to make an excellent second home as we move between the cave and Alan’s family home. It all boils down to where we feel comfortable and safe, wherever we lay our hat.

Benedict Salter as Alan in Vespertilio

As the two men explore a sort of friendship after a night of sex, we see how the uptight, unadventurous Alan and the nervy, brash Josh are not as dissimilar as they originally appear.

This is a lovely piece of work, economically written and absolutely truthful (even if it stretches credulity a bit that someone Alan’s age has managed to avoid all references to Harry Potter and has never heard of Queer Eye).

Vespertilio is basically about the brief encounter of two strangers which develops into something more, and about how relationships can both drain our resources and enrich our lives.

The script allows both men to mislead each other (“we all lie, that’s how we make people care”) as well as having moments of genuine affection. It was lovely to watch two people hugging and gaining security from each other’s physical warmth; something we are all missing right now.

Joshua Oakes-Rogers as Josh in Vespertilio

Blessed with the odd moment of surprise, and two excellent performances from Benedict Salter (Alan) and Joshua Oakes-Rogers (Josh), and strong and sympathetic direction from Lucy Jane Atkinson, Vespertilio is a joy to watch and leaves you with some hope for how mankind and nature interact, and how people treat each other when they are longing for or frightened by love.

You can watch Vespertilio on the King’s Head Player alongside the other four pieces in the Plays on Film season (JEW…ish, Illusions of Liberty, Sacrament, and I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical) until 5 May 2021. It is presented by Flight and Hope.

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