In 2011, we set out to create a music theatre work that sat above genre and style.   In this work we establish space for the audience to experience, feel, touch and be activating agents in bringing the world to life. This is a work ready to be shared, anew and again: visually beautiful, strangely upended and ritualistic.

Chants Des Catacombes is multi-disciplinary macabre musical theatre created by the Present Tense ensemble and popular Melbourne drum/violin duo The Twoks.

Site-specific theatre that mixes together music, dance, song, dialogue, scent, light and space, Chants Des Catacombes is like a ghost train and surprise party planned by your best friend. The story weaves together fact and mythology, alongside popular contemporary songs and classical music.

After three-sell out seasons: Donkey Wheel House Melbourne in 2011, the Old Adelaide Gaol in 2012 as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival and the Old Castlemaine Gaol as part of the Castlemaine State Festival, the next stop must be Melbourne.

Rooted in the order, artistry and mythical resonance of popular and contemporary music, the resonance of memory through strangely familiar lyrics and phrases, we examine how music fragments can construct narrative to create a complex and compelling work of theatre.

Through rigorous engagement of the breath, the body and the voice alongside innovative use of musical instruments, architecture, space, design, immersive elements such as scent, food and drink; we create a dream like narrative. The memories of three murdered women are bound to the tunnels. Their stories are full of complex codes, patterns and repetition, like a mystery.

The highlight of the festival is Chants des Catacombes. We arrive at the gaol at 11pm. Lit by small candles, we walk the flickering perimeter and are led into a dark space. Out of smoke, three screaming prisoners appear. Above and under us, the women are close enough to touch (and we do). They merge their foreheads to ours, pleading. They crawl through our legs, begging. Their voices soar through the corridors and down the narrow stairs as we follow them: a French showgirl in a salon (we loll on her bed as she plays the harp); a courtesan dancing for the general; a surgeon (under pretence: a woman pretending to be a man). And just as I’m thinking, “why do female characters have to be so passive?” the work takes up this question directly, speaks of Desdemona and Othello, shifts a gear to take up the fight. The entire performance is told through contemporary song and dance, and undergoes a Baz treatment, morphing from the gender-bending Blur’s “Girls & Boys” to Nirvana to Portishead to Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and even Kelis’ “Milkshake” for comic effect.

The three central performers Anna Boulic, Laura Burzacott and Zoe McDonald are murder victims trapped in the underworld and they raise hell with their voices. The choreography and lighting—as the musicians and actors lead you through the space—entrap and confront you with your own fears of madness and confinement. The audience is jittery. They hold back and are compliant. But the performers stay intimate and in-your-face, restless with violence and payback. It’s a performance I longed to see endlessly on repeat—in a space I couldn’t wait to be released from
— Real Time Arts
IN the eerie surroundings of the Old Adelaide Gaol the very talented young artists of Melbourne-based Present Tense Ensemble have created a brilliant, engrossing site-specific show.
— The Adelaide Advertiser
Finally emerging from the cell-block into the open air and a party-like atmosphere was a powerful emotional catharsis. This highly original and dramatic production is not for the faint-hearted, but it promises a truly memorable theatrical experience. ★★★★★
— Adelaide Advertiser
I can’t remember the last time I was so entranced and absorbed by a performance. Everything feels charged, emotional, and real.
— These Things Alice Loves |
The live soundtrack is engaging, emotive and outstanding as Musical Director, Nate Gilkes, a versatile performer, leads the way on the keyboard. The playlist is a blend of classical and modern songs – even dropping Kurt Cobain into the mix – that along with clever lighting and the use of emotive fragrance forms a critical backdrop to the troubled stories of the three women involved. 4.5 Stars
— Fringe Review
I would love to see the show at the Fringe that has a better ensemble than this one. The three women were astounding in their own right, but so complete was the physical, vocal, musical, and spatial experience that it would violate the show to single one out. The extensive collaborative team are clearly across every gorgeous, brutal element of the Chants design, harmonising or dischording at will.

It was electric. I was sweating. I didn’t want it to end. Every image was captivating, and the confusing immediacy of emotion – either conveyed at feel-your-body-heat closeness or empathetically felt – rings and reappears memorially long after the performance is over.

Chants affects you how theatre is supposed to. Look out for the Present Tense Collective in the future.
— Australian Stage
This is a must see show. Even if theatre is not your thing, this is a completely different experience.
— Heckler Magazine
We were greeted by three haunting voices…who created a blend of celestial sound whilst moving
dangerously close through the crowd. Immediately we were shown that was not a night for the lazy or uninspired; this was theatre for those who want shock, surprise and intrigue.”
— Arts Hub