The headline act of VAULT Festival 2018, Becoming Shades from Chivaree Circus is an immersive theatrical circus performance after the Greek legend of Persephone and Hades, re-imagined as a dark all-female struggle of love and power in the underworld.
Chivaree Circus demonstrate a great understanding of theatrical arts and deliver one of the finest circus narratives I have ever seen. Becoming Shades is a wonderfully cohesive package full of fine performances, outstanding visuals and atmosphere, complete with a great soundscape of ambient song.
Becoming Shades is brilliant modern circus that doesn't so much wow with the individual acts, but rather plays to the strengths of the impressive women who tell the story. The show is fairly well paced and doesn't try to be too many things simultaneously. Time is not wasted on unnecessary exposition. One could easily enjoy the performance without a solid grasp of Greek mythology. This is a refined, focused piece.
The immersive form doesn't elevate the telling, but works okay in the awkward Forge space. The available space is used well and the audience is led to behold the scenes and acts in a mostly smooth manner. The crowd was, as usual, slightly too large to manoeuvre fluidly.
Charon, the ferrywoman, is our guide. There's a strange if kindly air and a fascinating insectoid physicality about the character. A tricky, passive small role played to perfection by Molly Beth Morossa. Full marks on Charon's memorable costume, the other roles being equally well dressed. The whole dark visual design of the show, full of fire and fury, is first class.
The bulk of the circus acrobatics if left to the main pair, Rebecca Rennison's powerful, majestic Persephone and Alfa Marks' eager Hades. The standing pole, silks and aerials acts work beautifully, rising at times to mesmerising heights. Graceful, confident strength.
A trio of Furies, mischievous hellions of Hades, complete the cast, providing enjoyable relief and small in-between spectacle between the acts and the two halves — and a breather for the acrobats. In addition to their puckish antics, the Furies perform a great fire act.
Notably, the roles in Becoming Shades are imbalanced: some clearly support whereas others take the lead. I like this about modern circus. It's superior to the age-old standard band-of-performers sequence form by drawing the focus on the story rather than on the impressive feats the performers can demonstrate. Circus as means to a storytelling end versus a bitter competition over who is the real star of the show.
The acts are solid, but nothing I haven't seen before. Sensual dance, feminine movement is well employed to add intrigue. The narrative is a little on the thin side, and the break for drinks is not exactly warranted. As an immersive circus performance, the show carries a bit of an extra conundrum on whether or not one should clap to appreciate a particular trick and in so doing break the immersion of the story.
All in all, Becoming Shades features an excellent cast in interesting roles, and even manages to breath some life into the circus form itself. It doesn't take much imagination to blissfully give in to the performance and ignore safety pad installation procedures, crowd control and the like. This is immersion: when the show is made with care, the audience sees only what they are supposed to see. Fail to capture interest and no amount of subterfuge is enough to bail you out.
See Becoming Shades for a great bit of circus in the underworld. And be sure to keep an eye on all those involved and whatever they come up with next.