'Becoming Shades' review

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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An atmospheric immersive circus show hosted by The Vaults' gloomy tunnels

Take a circus troupe’s re-imagining of an Ancient Greek myth set in the underworld. Take a sprawling, underground arts venue in the dank and gloom-filled chambers beneath Waterloo station. A match made in the heaven, surely – the perfect combination of show and venue? ‘Becoming Shades’ – programmed as part of Vault Festival – offers a yes, if slightly hesitantly.

The myth in question is Hades’ abduction of the flower-picking Persephone – but as with most circus productions, the story is a pretty flimsy frame on which to hang a sequence of virtuoso routines. Which is fine: this is all looks the part, with the cast decked out in punkishly ragged costumes (the Ferryman, in particular, with glowing, lamp-like eyes in a part-mask, part-helmet, looks like a character from a Guillermo del Toro movie). And the acrobatic and aerial displays by the all-female Chivaree Circus are genuinely thrilling, the sash and harness work in particular. What makes it doubly exciting is that we, the audience, are gathered and sat cross-legged beneath them, rather than dozens of metres away in seats.

This is the strength of the immersive aspect of the production – but it isn’t without its problems. Being constantly herded backward and forward by ushers (wearing costumes and playing the part of underworld denizens, to be fair) didn’t always work in logistical terms. There are a few misjudged moments, too. A skit where the Ferryman listens to ‘how to tame your hellhound’ instructions on a cassette player was an unfunny, unneeded non-sequitur; a sequence in which the audience are prompted (read: told) to lay votive-style electric candles at the feet of musical duo Sam West and Becks Johnstone was a little cringe-worthy. But bolstered by confident, adept circus work, ‘Becoming Shades’ largely held its own in the ever-tricky space that is The Vaults.

By: Matt Breen



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