Review: Hildur Guðnadóttir: Chernobyl, The Barbican
3.0Overall Score

Hildur Guðnadóttir: Chernobyl is a video of an immersive, experimental performance of the soundtrack to HBO’s hit-drama Chernobyl. The series, which has been critically acclaimed, documents the events leading up to, and after, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986. 

The piece’s small, live audience are generously spaced throughout a warehouse: former Polish printworks, Mińska 65. This setting is a beautiful space in which our performers weave together soundscapes and atmospheres of catastrophe; the vastness of this space is visually reminiscent of the power plants and warehouses at the heart of the disaster. 

In an experience directed by Zoe Kahlert, our audience are plunged into total darkness and are only removed from the void by a coloured haze that intermittently fills the space. The atmosphere is apprehensive and uncanny with ice blue lighting, as performers subtly sway to the beats amongst the fog. Disorientating strobe lighting sporadically explodes around the space in a cacophony of light against the interludes of darkness. 

Guðnadóttir’s voice, like a siren, permeates the atmosphere and reverberates around the space, providing a sense of unease. The soundtrack, which hums in the air, is the sole reminder that our audience are in the real world and not trapped in the deep recesses of their subconscious. 

Accompanied by a soundscape which is flecked with recordings from Chernobyl’s sister plant Ignalina in Lithuania, we are reminded of the all too costly disaster that destroyed livelihoods and an impact that is still being felt due to the fallout. 

Despite the beautiful visuals and mythical soundscape, I do not feel the full impact of this piece can be felt online. An immersive performance relies on the live experience, and sitting in my bedroom in South London, there is too great a disconnect from the performers on my screen. Lost is the unease of the strobe lighting upon me, and the anticipation which fills the space fails to transmit itself from the video into my space. I yearn to feel connected in the nature of the audience and in memory of the destructive disaster, but I remain disappointingly detached. 

Hildur Guðnadóttir: Chernobyl is a stunning piece of art and an important tribute to the incredible soundtrack of the television series. However, as a recording, it fails to pack the punch of live musical performance; thus, it does not reach the heights of the immersive experience.

Hildur Guðnadóttir: Chernobyl is available to watch online until the 11th December. For more information and tickets see The Barbican’s website.