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Incredibly confusing and very unsatisfying

By: Feb. 24, 2023
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When walking into the Pit to see Hildegard von Bingen, I was struck by how similar it was to a church. The benches are set up in rows facing a central aisle, which is blocked with see-through fabric. Three black suit jackets on the floor, each illuminated in a bright white light. The seating is claustrophobic and uncomfortable.

While I knew the show was going to be physical theatre as it is described as a "physical opera" in the show's description, I was not expecting the sheer amount of silent screaming, writhing, and constantly repeated patterns that went on throughout the show.

There are several extended moments in which nothing happens except the three women making dramatic movements, failing to express what was on the mind of Hildegard. Yes, she claimed to have experienced painful visions, but there could be much more focus on the rest of her life, including her music and poetry.

While I appreciated the "multigenerational female ensemble" used to portray Hildegard at different stages in her life, the three actors do not blend well together, almost always out of sync and making it feel as though they were each competing to be heard against the other. The mixing up of lines makes the already confusing show even more so.

There is also an incredibly strange moment in which the three Hildegards drop their dramatic monologues and dance and sing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. While the choreography with the fabric is creative, it is insanely out of place and the singing not up to scratch. Hildegard von Bingen's own songs are stunning and would have contributed more to the "physical opera" promised in the show's description.

Luckily, the show has several saving graces that saved it a little, which include gorgeous lighting and creative sound. The lighting is absolutely stunning. In terms of the music, there is a man sits on the stage (which is rarely used by the Hildegards), performing in the background, contributing sounds through water glasses, chimes, and other small instruments.

Ultimately, Hildegard von Bingen is incredibly confusing and very unsatisfying for those hoping to learn more about the brilliant woman that Hildegard was. As someone who studied her music and her life, I was hoping to see a more psychological look at the woman, not images of Hildegard curled up in a ball muttering to herself.

If you have been given the gift of Hildegard's music, why not use it, truly making your show a "physical opera" that isn't just physical?

Hildegard von Bingen runs at the VAULT Festival from 21 to 26 February in the Pit at The Vaults.

Photo Credit: VAULT Festival

VAULT Festival has been left without a venue for next year. You can contribute to the #SaveVAULT campaign here.


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