City of Shadows

Shelley Blake

The crimes of the past inspire the art of the present in this emotive and intriguing performance.
City of Shadows

A single vocalist, three violins and a cello reveal the City of Shadows, a musical performance of stories inspired by an exhibition at Sydney's Justice & Police Museum (which later became the book of the same name) comprised of crime scene photos and mug shots taken in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Talented chanteuse Rachael Dease has interpreted the stories of the damned, based on this collection of haunting imagery. A darkened set allows the intriguing photographs to take centre stage, as we enter the world of those who suffered, those who struggled, and those who were forgotten.

A WAAPA graduate, Dease’s voice is the stand-out part of the performance. Her haunting and deeply affecting vocals fill the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre, and create a chilling atmosphere as the subsequent stories unfold.

The superb string section creates a soundscape reminiscent of the Dirty Three. The talented quartet of Brian Kruger (violin), Hayley-Jane Ayres (violin), Aaron Wyatt (violin) and Tristen Parr (cello) are host to a plethora of music awards, and between the four of them, cover almost every genre of music known to man. 

But what really makes this performance so unique are the photographs themselves. Published by the Historic Houses Trust, City of Shadows (by Peter Doyle and Sydney Living Museum) is a book of police photographs from the turn of the last century, focused on homicides and deaths in and around Sydney. A collection of haunting and intensely dramatic moments in history, these images instil a sense of despair, worry and sadness that’s perfectly complemented and highlighted by the ensemble’s emotive performance, and which provokes the question: what actually happened to these people?

City of Shadows – A Song Cycle of Murder, Misfortune and Forensics sits very comfortably between the confronting and uncomfortable. A great addition to the Malthouse’s Helium program and a lovely accompaniment to the beloved Melbourne Fringe, this show has found the perfect home at the Malthouse. Though not one for the faint-hearted, or weak-stomached, it it’s an emotive and intriguing performance that's sure to appeal to lovers of good stories.

City of Shadows – A Song Cycle of Murder, Misfortune and Forensics
Conceived, written, directed and by Rachael Dease
Performed by: Rachael Dease (Vocals), Brian Kruger (Violin), Hayley-Jane Ayres (Violin), Aaron Wyatt (Viola) and Tristen Parr (Cello)
Malthouse Tower Theatre, Melbourne
21 September – 5 October

Melbourne Fringe Festival
18 September – 6 October

About the author

Shelley Blake is a reviewer for ArtsHub.