Review: CHANTS DES CATACOMBES

Hypnotic and intriguing – but got a little lost…

By Kim Edwards

Cabaret is often distinguished from other forms of theatre by its atmosphere: the sense of being drawn into the space and narrative, and caught up easily and absorbidly into a new and rarified air.

Innovative collaborative cabaret  project Chants Des Catacombes is promenade theatre that thus beckons you down into the beautiful and eerie bowels of the Donkey Wheel House in Bourke Street to hear the tales and echoing songs of three women who still haunt the labyrinthine basement long after their demise.

The initial creation of atmosphere and use of space is just sublime in this production. Nicola Andrew’s spectacular lighting design reveals each new room and scene as a place of chiaroscuro and spectacle, and the audience wandered fearless and fascinated down halls, around pillars and through doorways as the action unfolded in front, behind and between us.

The concept of Chants Des Catacombes is beguiling, and the multi-sensory experience highly engaging, but narrative and characters are strangely jarring and indistinct. The desire to understand who these three women are and what holds them here remains unsatiated: lyrics and anecdotes were difficult to hear as snatches of story floated away down corridors, diction was muffled or volume insufficient.

Moreover, while cabaret delights in reconsidering songs in new contexts and styles, obviously anachronistic modern music when we wanted to immerse ourselves in the past felt intrusive and disruptive – particularly the closing number that left the audience silent in surprise.

Perhaps the desire is indeed to unsettle us and prevent us losing ourselves completely in this world and the lives and deaths created, as fragmented narrative and characters and songs wisp and whisper away into the shadows, but for me, Chants Des Catacombes ultimately did not quite achieve the gothic, ghostly, sultry heights the publicity had evoked.

Nonetheless, the performances were certainly mesmerising (and I appreciated the subtle art of the ushers as crew, scenery, signposts, props and brooding presence), the overall experience is unique and enjoyable, and the chance to traverse and haunt a cabaret performance space yourself as witness and voyeur and silent participant is – well, simply to die for

Chants Des Catacombes is the collaborative creation of:

• Nicola Andrews (Lighting Designer and VCA Design Graduate)
• Anna Boulic (Winner of the 2010 Short and Sweet Cabaret Festival, Harpist and NIDA Graduate)
• Laura Burzacott (Call Girl the Musical and I Heart Frankston)
• Nathan Gilkes (Theatre & Opera Director and VCA Directing Graduate)
• David Harford (Choreographer and Ballarat Arts Academy Graduate)
• Bryce Ives (Theatre Director Call Girl the Musical, The History Boys and I Heart Frankston)
• Emma Leah (Scent Alchemist)
• Zoe McDonald (Wrong Town and VCA Musical Theatre Graduate)
• Sophie Woodward (Designer and VCA Graduate)

Venue: Donkey Wheel House, 673 Bourke Street Melbourne
Dates:  Fri-Sat 17-18 June 8.30pm & 10.30pm, Sun 19 June 6pm.
Tickets: $30/conc $25
Bookings: http://www.trybooking.com/9503 or at the door

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