Becoming Shades returns to the Vault Festival with a feminist reimagining of the classic Greek myth Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. The original story, which details how we got the seasons, is the entertaining yet drab story of a tug of war for Persephone’s agency between her mother and Hades, King of the Underworld. Becoming Shades turns the relationship between Hades and Persephone on its head, levelling the power dynamics and transforming them from that of a naive girl duped by a powerful man, to an underworld power couple on equal level. The all-woman production does this using a mélange of opera, dance and circus performance to create an unforgettable immersive experience.

Upon entering a dark room we were handed makeshift surgical masks and told that we must wear them at all times. People filed into an expansive dark tunnel, half of which was illuminated and the other half of which remained a mystery to us. An uneasy excitement filled the room as sullen operatic vocals floated from the live band to the side of us, and a coarse rope stopped us from exploring the rest of the room. Our section continued to fill up and people began to feel a bit restless, a bit like chickens tightly squeezed into a pen.  Suddenly, three stoic women dressed in Doc Martens and corsets appeared, revealing themselves as hellhounds and welcoming us to Hades while telling us, “you are the lost souls”.

Without too many spoilers, Becoming Shades is a visual spectacle with plenty of surprises. Drawing on a number of different disciplines and marrying them effortlessly, it’s difficult to know where to begin the commendations. The original score that is composed by Becks Johnstone and Sam West is hauntingly melancholic, fitting perfectly with the action in the play. The addition of a live band to the mix further highlights Becoming Shades commitment to fusing art forms to create an experience that appeals to all the senses. Rebecca Rennison is a revelation as Persephone, graceful, defiant, strong-willed and graceful. Her dance and acrobatics performances are breathtakingly equalled by performances from the seductive Hades (Alfa Marks) and a frantic pole performance from Ann McDonnell. The play’s use of fire dances, aerial rope acts and pole dance highlights the range of talents of the performers, but the unnecessary interval kills some of the hard built-up tension.

But all in all, Becoming Shades is a visual spectacle that pushes the boundaries of artistic expression and makes our trip along the river Styx a pleasant one.

Becoming Shades is playing at the The Vaults as part of Vault Festival until 18 March 2018

Photo: Maximilian Webster