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Becoming Shades review at Vaults, London – ‘impressive acrobatic work’

Becoming Shades at Vault Festival, London. Photo: Maximilian Webster Becoming Shades at Vault Festival, London. Photo: Maximilian Webster
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hades is located underneath Waterloo station. At least, it is until March, during the run of Chivaree Circus’ immersive show Becoming Shades at the Vault Festival. It tells the story of Persephone, who was minding her own business gathering flowers when she was abducted into the underworld (Hades) by its king (also called Hades).

The programme notes detail the laudable aim of making this a story of female empowerment, as the non-passive Persephone embraces her role as queen of the shades. But any sense of narrative depth is defeated by the piecemeal nature of this immersive format, in which the audience must shuffle about in the Vault’s largest venue, the Forge, ushered from one side to the other by various staff members and a trio of dog-collared Furies in Dr Martens.

No sooner have we settled down on the cold floor for some dexterous aerial silk action from Hades (a swaggering performance from Alfa Marks) than we’re up again to be herded slowly into the next position. It’s hard to truly engage with Persephone’s symbolic pomegranate consumption and how this might portend a disruptive sexuality when a Fury is setting up a crash mat behind you.

Styx ferry-woman Charon’s comic interlude with a thermos and a Digestive is tonally odd, but the performers all demonstrate impressive fire-eating and acrobatic feats. Reverb-soaked music from a live duo adds to the atmosphere along with gloomy lighting, but for all its bold effects this journey into the underworld isn’t particularly moving.

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Immersive circus show features impressive acrobatic sequences but suffers from a frustratingly fitful structure