Matt Neubauer and James Nash’s SPUR, playing through March 9th at London’s VAULT festival, is an atmospheric and allegorical new piece of theatre. Merging core elements from Western B movies with the longform monologue form, SPUR takes on a uniquely speculative and introspective form all of its own.
Its central narrative follows a rancher’s daughter named Sadie (Maddy Strauss) as she teams up with a stony gunslinger (George Fletcher) and a hapless ranch-hand (Benjamin Victor) to track down the man who killed her father. In her journey to seek retribution for her father, we are thrown into an intertextual search for meaning. How may we learn to forgive those who have hurt us? How may we envision a future for ourselves without ignoring our past?
As it begins to beg these questions, SPUR’s trim narrative, contained neatly in the folksy Western subgenre, gradually spins out into a timeless tale of grief, forgiveness, and longing. Each character’s monologue is a self-contained story, yet bleeds out into the show’s overall themes of loneliness, abandonment, sacrifice, and hope.
Fletcher commands the audience as he recounts a cyber-heist betrayal by a former flame, Victor bears his heart in a tragicomic story about summoning his friend’s spirit in the body of a dog, while Strauss bookends the show with her tale of grieving a father with whom she continues to have a fraught and melancholic relationship.
These three narratives are each accompanied by a tremendous amount of care towards visual symbolism. Ben Kulvichit’s lighting design and Alberto Lais’ videography are haunting as they conjure everything from the American West, to tender home video footage.
Generally, SPUR succeeds in its contrasts. It simultaneously boasts an obvious attention to detail and nuance, while catching its characters in the most absurd and hilarious of circumstances. It refuses to rely on any genre conventions for too long, thereby testing its audience’s capacity to tie together each of the plot’s many threads by themselves.
Though not as propulsive or emphatic as an actual Western, SPUR offers us an insight into the pasts which form us, the futures which we have the agency to imagine, and the present which helps us navigate between the two.
VAULT Festival 2023 runs Tuesday 24th January to Sunday 19th March, full listings and ticket information can be found here.