Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: Becoming Shades at the Vaults Festival

This was my first ever visit to the Vaults Festival, a programme of theatre and comedy in the tunnels under Waterloo Station which first started in 2011. As you enter the central tunnel you feel the slightly seedy, off beat vibe and youthful energy with resonances of the Edinburgh Fringe which promises something different.

Becoming Shades from Chivaree circus returns in an extended form as one of a small number of shows that run throughout the Festival and is presented in one of the larger spaces holding an audience of around 150. It promises big circus spectacle ,intimate immersive theatre and haunting music in a story of female empowerment from a whole female cast. It is an over ambitious promise and the evolution of the show into a longer form with over extended break in the middle does not fully deliver . It does offer impressive exciting aerialist circus and haunting music presented in a promenade format with audiences shepherded to create spaces for the cast to perform their acts but its storytelling is lost and the immersive experience is muted. The Director Laurane Marchive says in her programme notes that they did not want to give audience members clear answers but we do need more clues than a wordless performance can't deliver. A simple scene list in the programme or projected on a wall would have helped immensely to offer understanding of the link between the elements. Only in the hours following did I piece together any meaning.

We start at the gates of hades greeted by three furies (female deities)perhaps representing the three headed guard dog of Hades himself and by gentle motions are invited to form a space for the arrival of Persephone (played with beautiful tender movement by Rebecca Rennison). The bizarre alien creature which represents Charon (Holly Beth Mormosa) takes us to the other end of the room which I think represents the banks of the river Styx , the boundary between the upper and lower worlds on the edge of the Elysian Fields. Here we meet the Lost soul, Anna McDonnell who performs an impressive pole dance demonstrating her extraordinary technique and strength.

Ushered back to the centre we are treated to a well choreographed routines from the Furies with Fire juggling and apples but without any understanding of the relevance! This is followed by a weak and odd comedy routine as Charon fails to train a hell hound.

There is no doubt the highlight of the evening is the aerial work on long silks or hoops by Persephone and Hades (Alfa Marks) which represents her seduction but while an immensely impressive physical performance , there is no sense of a relationship between them other than to perform their tricks . Persephone's emergence as the formidable Queen of the underworld is demonstrated by her dramatic final aerial performance on a hoop with six lighted torches , all performed without even a safety mat. There is no denying their extraordinary technique, suppleness and skill and the elegance and daring of the execution but it is not enough to call itself theatre. 

The music written and performed by Sam West and Becks Johnstone is dark, eerie and haunting as promised and occasionally is beautiful and moving but at times is dull and soon forgotten.In the fluid performance space it is easy to find yourself tuning out of listening and watching instead the set up of the next circus trick.

Overall the extension of the show , and interval , fails to carry the audience with it throughout as a theatrical experience but if you like promenading around impressive Four star circus acts like watching an extended street performance , then you will enjoy and admire their artistry.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★
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