Vault preview: Callum Hughes: Thirst

Fake Escape Theatre, Inn Crowd and Callum Hughes bring new one-man show Thirst to Vault Festival as part of a UK tour on selected dates until 5 May – it will also be part of the Edinburgh Fringe in Aug 2023.

Callum Hughes’ Thirst uses original music, elements of stand up, and storytelling to weave together a truly unforgettable piece of theatre.

Thirst is a deeply moving and hilarious autobiographical exploration of Callum’s journey through alcoholism into sobriety.

We chatted with Callum and producer/co-director David Shopland to get more info on this intriguing show.

Where: Studio at The Vaults

When: 28-29 Jan (2.50pm and 5.50pm)

Ticket link:

Promotional photo for Thirst

What’s the best thing about being part of the Vault Festival?

Callum: It’s always been an ambition of mine to perform at Vault Festival.  

It’s a place where theatre-makers and fans come together to celebrate the huge, diverse range of work on offer, and I’ve discovered some of my favourite companies there.  

It’s also a fantastic atmosphere, and I remember how exciting I found it when I first attended in my younger, fresher days! 

The most exciting thing is that people see shows that they might not normally seek out and are exposed to lives, stories, styles, and makers they might not have experienced before. 

Thirst is about a deeply personal topic, alcoholism, in a one-person show. Why share the experience in this way?

Callum: I thought long and hard about sharing such a personal story in such a public arena.

As with all the work I create – I always ask the question: ‘WHY’?  What is the function of this work?  Whilst I believe all theatre should be entertaining and stimulating, I also think it should offer something different.  

When creating Thirst I wanted to create the show I would have benefitted seeing when I was younger.  

As someone in recovery from addiction, it was very important that the piece had full integrity and that required me to dig deep into my own psyche and interrogate how and why I’ve got to where I am.  

Working with directors Roann Hassani McCloskey and David Shopland was an integral part of maintaining the show’s authenticity and it wouldn’t have worked without their expert input.  

A show that would make me laugh and entertain me, but also offer me a different way of looking at alcoholism.  A show that speaks to everyone, whether you’re a heavy drinker or completely teetotal. 

Despite the negative issues of addiction, Thirst is essentially a positive piece. What should audiences expect?

Callum: People who have seen the show in previews always comment on the use of humour in the piece and I think that’s key to its success.  

Some describe it as almost stand-up with a narrative arc.  I also wanted to create something that celebrates community, pubs, and theatre itself; places where people come together to share stories and laugh together.  

Life’s full of ups and downs, and sometimes the things that bring us release and joy can turn out to be problems further down the line.  

To reflect life accurately, we had to celebrate the great joy and humour found in all aspects of life, including addiction and recovery itself.  

Promotional image for Thirst UK tour

I reviewed the Fake Escape show Saving Britney in digital format a while back. Are there any common themes that link the work of the company and the two shows?

David: I think the work we’re drawn to at Fake Escape always revolves around contemporary stories told in a unique way.

Starting as an immersive company back in 2013, the relationship between performer and audience has been at the forefront of our output since we branched out into other forms of theatre.

I think something both Saving Britney and Thirst share is an ability to connect directly with an audience, making them feel part of the world that the performer has created.

I think with these two stories in particular, addiction and recovery play a big part in both; whether the more recognisable alcoholism in Thirst or Jean’s obsession with celebrity in Saving Britney.

Music is an important part of Thirst. Was this planned from the start?

Callum: I’ve always worked as a musician as well as an actor and I’ve always approached text much in the same way a musician approaches a piece of music.  

The piece is autobiographical, and it seemed odd to be talking about music and its importance to me without incorporating that. (I always try to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ in all the work I make). It also helps capture the folk traditions of my heritage where song and story are always intertwined.  

Whenever my directors Roann and David wanted me to push harder or dig deeper with a particular story in rehearsals, they would often say ‘pick up the guitar and tell us about this part of your life’ and sure enough, the stories would flow out with ease.  

Music is inbuilt, part of my make-up, and being able to share that with an audience is a joy.  

Logo for Fake Escape