Chants Des Catacombes – 2012 Adelaide Fringe

Presented by Present Tense.
Reviewed Thursday 23 February 2012.

Chants Des Catacombes is a sinister cabaret about three murdered women doomed to tell their stories for eternity. Using music as widely varied as Saint-Saëns, Blondie and Portishead, the production is fascinating and far from conventional… even if it isn’t always successful.

The Old Adelaide Gaol is used as a space for 'promenade theatre', with the audience moving around to follow the story and performers. It’s a creative approach but, unfortunately also one of the greatest problems with the show. Everyone crowding around wherever they want makes it difficult to actually see much of what’s going on – especially if, like me, you’re on the vertically challenged side. Trying to shift was useless because as soon as I’d find a better vantage point, someone else would inevitably step in front. In the end I had to choose settling for views that were mostly blocked over spending half my time hopping about not paying attention to the show.

Anna Boulic, Laura Burzacott and Zoe McDonald, who play the murdered women, are all brilliant singers and graceful dancers. However, the diction is often unclear and the music – played on instruments within the same confined spaces – tends to drown out the dialogue or singing. The result is a story that’s often confusing to follow and ill-defined, unremarkable characters.

Despite its downsides, Chants Des Catacombes is interesting as a work of art and certainly not lacking in atmosphere. The reputedly haunted (and definitely creepy) Gaol is often used as a performance venue, but in this case it is a perfect fit for the eerie, caged mood of the show. The use of 'scent alchemist' Emma Leah is particularly clever. I didn’t realise the smells were manipulated until I read the program afterwards, but I had noticed the different aromas floating around at the time.

Chants Des Catacombes isn’t the brooding, gothic masterpiece it wants to be. However, director Bryce Ives and the Present Tense team deserve commendation for being brave, taking risks and experimenting. Not enough theatre companies are willing to show the same sort of guts.

Chants Des Catacombes boasts a great concept and very cool setting, but suffers from a flawed execution.

Adelaide Fringe – Chants Des Catacombes

Venue: Old Adelaide Gaol, 18 Gaol Rd, Thebarton.
Season: 11.30pm 24 – 25 Feb, 8.30pm and 10.30pm 26 – 29 Feb.
Duration: 65 minutes.
Tickets: $10 – $30.
Bookings: Fringetix via 1800 FRINGE, outlets or online.

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