As part of VAULT Festival, Chivaree Circus brought the audience on an intimate, immersive, and fragmented journey into the underworld with Persephone in Becoming Shades. The Vaults is segmented into separate performance spaces, with a smorgasbord of theatrical worlds happening all under the same roof. An innovative, ambitious, and magical festival of original theatre.

The journey began for the bewildered audience when the doors opened and we were handed individual masks to cover our faces. As we made our way through the dark and damp walls of the venue, there was a peculiar sub-human creature adorned in LEDs ushering the audience towards him and three intriguing hell hounds. As the audience filtered in, there was an air of apprehension and uncertainty in what was to happen once those doors closed.

The story was told through movement, interpretive dance, aerial, fire-breathing, and various aspects of circus. Persephone, played by Rebecca Rennison, displayed incredible physicality and strength in all aspects of her performance. The solo segments with Persephone dancing and discovering were poignant, but the aerial work with Hades, played by Craig Gadd, was terrifying and bewitching. The skill and strength required, along with the meticulous choreography displayed in the air, truly brought the forbidden and bleak love to life in front of our eyes. Gadd, a master of acrobalance, had the audience held with bated breath as he ate an apple and brought himself into precarious situations.

The three hell hounds acted as guides in the space for the audience, but were also incorporated into several areas of the show, with object and fire manipulation. There were elements of mime and unexpected comedy by a peculiar creature that guided Persephone through the underworld, who brought comic relief during slick stage changes.

There was original music performed by Becks Johnstone and Sam West, with an array of instruments, voice and electronic effects. The soundtrack was haunting and refreshing to have part of the overall experience. Although some tracks were quite monotonous and tedious, it is easy to pull parallels of what the reality of hell might be in correlation to the music that might be experienced there.

Chivaree Circus have reimagined Persephone’s journey in a spellbinding production, with an incredible cast of skilled and engaging characters. The location of the Vault’s was self-contained and visceral, which cut the audience off from the outside world, but also made it incredibly hard to breath with the smoke from the fire. The overall production values were weird and wonderful, but the space wasn’t perhaps the most suitable.

Becoming Shades featured at the VAULT Festival, Waterloo. For more information and tickets on what’s on, see here.