Director: Laurane Marchive
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
If one were consigned to Hell, it may look like The Vault under the arches at Waterloo Station with its damp, peeling walls, and the constant rumble of trains overhead could be the sound of the furnace where one’s soul would burn indefinitely. Becoming Shades, a dark, sexy circus based on Persephone’s descent into the Underworld, could not be in a better venue.
Becoming Shades is one of the main shows at this year’s Vault Festival, an event now rivalling the Edinburgh Fringe and the Brighton Fringe. Extended this year to eight weeks, the Vault Festival will present over 300 shows in the cavernous space under the railway station replete with its own bars and Bedouin-inspired chill-out zones.
Deep in the Vault is the one of the biggest performance spaces, The Forge, and as we enter we’re given a black facemask to put on once the show begins. The audience gamely comply and when the lights fall and the Furies – the Greek goddesses of vengeance- come to collect us, we are masked up and ready. The Furies, with jackal heads as hats and with their dog collars lighting our way through this promenade performance, cajole and shepherd us into the right positions. To view the performances we can either stand or sit on the floor – though the floor is punishingly hard, but leaning against the walls you can feel the damp pushing through your clothes.
Although the early pieces involve contemporary dance and some impressive pole dancing by Persephone (Rebecca Rennison) describing her journey into the Underworld, most (and the best of) of Becoming Shades centres on aerial performances. In this show created by Chivaree Circus all of the performers are women, even Hades, Persephone’s future husband, changes gender here. These occasionally heart-stopping displays are lit darkly and eerily, especially in the second part, which seems to jack up the thrills and the danger.
As time is needed for the performers to prepare for their next trick, there is, necessarily, some filler. These comedy interludes –complete with some awkward audience participation – are unfortunately not that funny, and they undermine the darkness and menace that the company have otherwise managed to create. Thankfully, they do not last that long and we can return to the stunning aerial displays.
Perhaps even better than the acrobatics, is the original music played live by musicians Sam West and Becks Johnstone. Indeed, the duo’s bluesy electronica, reminiscent of Anthony and the Johnsons, or The Soulsavers is so good, that sometimes your eyes move from the spinning performers above to the small stage of the musicians. But the music complements the performances perfectly, especially one song, ‘You and I’, played at the end of the first half as two acrobats combine, twisting and falling from the aerial ropes. Both of the musicians’ voices add an operatic or folkloric drama to the already dramatic events happening around us.
The seven performers, and the two musicians do a good job in filling the entire space of the Forge, and the lighting designed by Jessica Hung Han Yun ensures that the shadows are as spectacular as the acrobatics and fire eating. We may not quite become shades in this show, as after 90 minutes our trip to the Underworld is over, and we return, not quite ready, to the land of the living. But Becoming Shades is a Hell that you’d want to revisit.
Runs until 18 March 2018 | Image: Maximilian Webster