Vault preview: Varnish

Janet Taylor (playwright/producer) and Jonathan Mayor (performer) are bringing their show Varnish to this year’s Vault Festival.

“A fabulous and fractured, sparkling and splintered, magnificent and messy exploration of adoption, adfiction, and ego.”

Read on to find out a bit more about this intriguing new piece from a new writer and a seasoned comic (making his dramatic debut).

Where: Pit, The Vaults

When: 31 Jan-5 Feb

Ticket link:

Promotional photo for Varnish

It’s great to see Vault back after three years! What’s the best part about being involved in the festival?

Janet: Bringing Varnish to Vault is literally a dream come true and one I didn’t dare say out loud when I wrote it.

Some of my favourite plays of the past few years began their lives at Vault – like Margaret Perry’s Collapsible and Liz Kingsman’s One Woman Show.

I’m following lots of the shows coming to Vault this year on social media and there are so many things I want to see. So, I suppose the best thing about it is feeling like we’re in stellar company.

Jonathan: Vault was Janet’s idea. The world of fringe theatre is new to me, but I’m really excited to try something new and meet new audiences.

Varnish is about adoption, addiction, and ego. What made you turn it into a show, and what should audiences expect?

Jonathan: I’ve always included true stories in my stand-up, but Janet’s used the material in a different way.

Janet: Yeah, Jonathan and I have been friends for years, so I’ve seen his act quite a few times. I’ve always felt there was more to be explored in his story.

As with a lot of good comedy, Jonathan’s stand-up carries an emotional punch, but he doesn’t dwell on the sentiment.

He tends to play it for shocks and laughs. Varnish doesn’t avoid the darker side.

Jonathan: It’s still funny though. But the main difference is that, when I’m doing stand-up, I’m being funny on purpose. My comedy persona is very high-status.

The Jonathan character in Varnish doesn’t know he’s funny. He’s a much sadder character, although still fabulous, obviously.

Janet: How could he not be when you’re playing him? I’m sorry, did that sound sarcastic?

Jonathan: No, it sounded true.

Promotional photo of Jonathan Mayor

You’re staging the show in the Pit at Vault – was this your first choice of venue, and what’s special about it?

Jonathan: One of the great things about Vault, as a curated festival, is that they consider your show and then offer you the venue they think will work for you. Like matchmaking. So, visiting Pit for the first time was a bit like a blind date.

Janet: Fortunately, it was a 10/10 and a definite ‘would see again’. I always imagined Varnish in a Vault venue that looked exactly like Pit.

We don’t have to fight the venue to create the atmosphere we’re after. A layer of showbiz in a dark, dank cellar is our perfect set.

Jonathan: Besides, I spend most of my weekends in a dungeon. This feels like coming home.

Jonathan, you’ve been a cult artist for ages on the comedy circuit. What’s the best thing about performing stand-up?

Jonathan: I did a gig once, to an audience of about 450 people. I asked them all, “who has a job they love?” Deafening silence.

I then asked, “who has a job they hate?” and they all cheered. And I realised that most of them had probably been looking forward to the gig all week.

My job is the relief that makes those jobs bearable. It feels like a privilege to be part of people’s lives in that way. Also, I’m a raging ego who feeds off the attention. Without it, I start to misbehave in my real life.

You’re a Manchester treasure. I’m from up north too, do you think our humour comes from the dark, cold, and wet?

Janet: It’s funny you should ask about that. Han, our lighting and sound designer, is also from the Northwest.

When they first read the script, they commented on how Northern the humour is. It wasn’t intentional, but I’m from Manchester too, so perhaps our humour does have its own flavour.

Jonathan: I think there’s something about the UK weather generally that’s good for comedy. In Sydney, where the weather’s great, there just isn’t the same scene. Everyone’s busy enjoying the sun.

In Manchester, we need something to do indoors when it’s miserable outside. But I also think there’s something about Northern humour.

I notice the difference when I do gigs in the South. People are quicker to take offence. In the North, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Promotional photo for Varnish
Jonathan Mayor, photo credit Joe Smith