Review: "Becoming Shades" at The Vaults

As a cool-ish, twenty-something person, I like to think that I spend my time doing cool twenty-something things. That said, never have I ever (before) found myself in a low-lit cavern below a railway arch, surrounded by firebreathers and people in black surgical masks. On a Thursday. 

This job is definitely boosting my street cred.

Credit: Lidia Crisafulli

The reason we were in said cavern, was to watch the preview of Chivaree Circus’ most recent offering: Becoming Shades.

Billed as an “enthralling, intriguing, immersive circus re-imagining of Persephone’s presumed seduction by Hades”, the show fits into the line-up of this year’s Vaults’ Festival like a hand in a very arty glove.

Now in its sixth year, The Vaults’ Festival is the place to go if you are looking for some bold, creative culture. Over 8 weeks from January to March, the railway arch under Waterloo Bridge is home to hundreds of comedy, theatre, and film events, each designed to delight audiences and open their imaginations.

And what could be better than circus for achieving this?

Credit: Maximilian Webster

Chivaree’s story of “empowerment, love, and choices” is communicated by an all-female cast through some of the most magical performances I have ever seen. The piece won last year’s Origins Award for Outstanding New Work, and it’s not difficult to see why.

The beauty and magic of circus lies in performers doing something which seems physically impossible…and making it look as simple and natural as walking down the street. The players of Chivaree Circus are consummate professionals – artists – and their performances were breathtaking.

Opening with a pole routine which made the official photographer audibly gasp, we were guided through “the Underworld” by three fire-breathing, juggling performers, whose tasks included entertaining us punters during the interval. Ah great. More audience participation. My fave. You try saying ‘no’ to one of Hades’ little helpers when they want to borrow your scarf. Spoiler alert: they yank.

Credit: Maximilian Webster

Perhaps to make up for accidentally throttling me with my own Pashmina, said Under-dweller put me in charge of a small torch for a flawless aerial silks piece, and I was wordlessly instructed to point it upwards, like a spotlight. Oh, the power. This is audience interaction I can get behind. It’s a simple trick, but super-effective, with another audience member across the circle holding a similar torch, we created an arc of light which might otherwise have been very difficult to achieve with ceilings as high as a railway arch…

Ostensibly, the space is designed to be roamed around freely as you “explore” the Underworld – but really it was a question of everyone forming an awestruck ring around one performer then moving to the other end of the room as the next one started. I will say this though, something about sitting on the floor fitted my sense of childlike wonder perfectly.

Credit: Maximilian Webster

All in all, it’s a beautiful show –the acts were powerful, funny, and moving by turns, the live musicians were fantastic, the venue pure atmosphere. I’m not sure the story came across all that strongly…but, honestly, it didn’t matter.

This is a show which needs to be experienced – rather than read about (and it’s on until March 18th, so you’ve no excuse not to go!) but I will say this: If you’ve never watched a woman hang from the back of her neck on a hoop, many metres up in the air and - oh yes - also ON FIRE…then you’re missing out. 

Credit: Maximilian Webster


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