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Published February 28, 2020

Hades Fading draws on Greek myth to examine an unfolding environmental crisis from an otherworldly perspective. In a stunning performance combining song, projection and a bilingual script, an extraordinary cast takes us on a return journey through Hades to our own world. This collaboration between Melbournian and Indonesian artists demonstrates art’s capacity to reach across cultures, uninhibited by linguistic or physical borders. By blending traditional arts with modern technology, Mainteater and their collaborators have created something truly spellbinding.

We open on Eurydice (Heliana Sinaga), sprawled on the floor of a library in Hades. As she drifts in and out of consciousness, she struggles to remember her life before entering the underworld. By using the library’s resources, she weaves together the narrative of her life. She comes to the conclusion that the humans no longer remember nor fear the characters inhabiting Greek myth, so Hades is fading away, taking her with it.

As she fights to recover her own memories, she summons Persephone, Queen of the Underworld (Rinrin Candraresmi). Persephone confirms Eurydice’s fears – Hades is fading. In a mournful and evocative song, she reports what she saw on her most recent trip to earth. Mounds of concrete, burnt-out cars, and not a soul alive. Worst of all, because Greek myth only exists in the mind of humans, the underworld will also soon cease to exist.

In telling this story, Candramesi’s haunting vocals resonate through the theatre as a 3D projection depicts a burnt tree silhouetted against an orange sky. Images like this carry extra weight following the events of this past summer. It will not be difficult for Australian audiences to connect these vignettes with climate change and its consequences. Because of this, these pictures anchor an otherwise celestial experience to the reality outside the theatre walls.

Aji Sangiaji’s lighting design plays an integral part in creating the world of Hades and the boundary which separates it from the audience. For much of the piece, all performers are on the stage, but careful and effective lighting shields them from view when necessary. The sense that the characters are “fading” is also achieved through lighting design to great effect. 

The script weaves English together seamlessly with Indonesian, creating musical, poetic dialogue. This is supported by a dynamic display of “subtitles” which are part of a 3d projection that enhances the performance through an effective combination of animation and typography. It can be hard to keep track of the dialogue because of the quick transitions between the two languages. That said, this is partly because of the musical and immersive quality of the dialogue, which contributes to the immersive world the performers create before your eyes.     

Occasionally, such a huge production sometimes feels confined by the small stage at the La Mama Courthouse Theatre. Maybe this actually enhances the production’s connection with its audience, but I can’t help but wonder what this might look like with more space, perhaps even in an outdoor setting. 

In any case, Hades Fading is a distinctive and delicious theatrical experience. It’s full of interesting ideas, which it explores with humour, theatricality and pure style. It’s only playing at La Mama for a short run, so catch it if you can before March 1st.

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