Vault review: Hildegard von Bingen

In Bound By Theatre’s new production, a 35-minute piece created by Kristin Winters in collaboration with her performing colleagues Miriam Elwell-Sutton and Sarah Kent, a 12th century nun, visionary and polymath takes centre stage.

This work in progress is billed as a “physical opera,” but the operatic element is reduced to some recorded vocal chants. This may disappoint music lovers, but there is much to compensate.

Movement director Gabrielle Moleta has worked with the three actors to create an intensity that echoes religious fervour. I found it fascinating to watch each woman grapple with her own body’s capabilities.

Promotional photo for Hildegard Von Bingen

The setting is very evocative of an abbey cloister, with see-through curtains hanging down on both sides of the stage area.

We glimpse moments as the hangings become walls to draw on, water to wash in, and more. I’d sit as far towards the front as you can to get the full effect.

With three Hildegards portraying different ages of the subject, we hear of the 8-year old shut away with an anchoress in seclusion, the 40-year old who founds her own order, and the 80-year old whose mind reminds sharp as her body fails her.

Architect, singer, poet, author, and independent woman Hildegard makes the point that living without men gives a certain freedom – although ultimately doomed to silence by the disapproval of those males within the church.

This is a deeply evocative piece that displays great power with strong and committed performances.

With musician David Cieri providing some live accompaniment, the aforementioned chants, and some voiceover, there is a lot to cover in the running time.

Promotional photo for Hildegard Von Bingen

Hildegard Von Bingen is certainly ambitious, with exemplary sound and lighting design (by Florence Hand and Alex Forey).

On the bare benches in the Pit, we feel as if we are watching from church pews, part of the divine service.

Moments of drama are thoughtfully conveyed, especially around abstention and fear of execution by fire. With such proximity to the action, it is difficult not to get swept up in this show, which is sometimes exquisitely moving.

A moment where “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” is sung is a bit perplexing, but gives a moment of levity in what could be quite a heavy drama.

Hildegard Von Bingen continues at the Vault Festival until 26 Feb. Tickets here.


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During this year’s festival, you can support shows running for the last time in the Leake Street Tunnels by buying a ticket, or head in for a drink or a late event in the Flair Ground.