The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has captured the imagination since the days of antiquity. A gifted musician, Orpheus was so skilled, it was said he could bewitch the gods themselves. Eventually finding true love, he marries the wood nymph Eurydice. However, on their wedding day, she happens to step on a snake, which kills her and sends her soul to the Underworld. Riddled with grief, Orpheus decides to go to the Underworld (while he’s still alive) and petition its ruler, Hades, to return her to him…
If the show was simply a re-telling of this myth, it would be over very quickly. Instead, music features heavily in the show – some of which are original compositions and some are well-known pieces of classical music. There’s also the ‘meta’ aspect – the show within the show – that sees a troupe from 1930s Paris putting on a show about the ill-fated couple.
Dominic Conway stars as ‘Django Reinhardt’, a prestigious guitar player who also plays Orpheus, while Eugénie Pastor as chanteuse ‘Yvette Pépin’ channels her inner Édith Piaf (as well as playing Eurydice). The other actor-musicians in the show ‘wear lots of other hats’ too, so as well as playing the double bass, violin and accordion respectively, Clare Beresford, Miriam Gould and Shamira Turner perform onstage in a comedic and operatic capacity. Similarly, Tom Penn, Alexander Scott and Charlie Penn perform multiple roles, in addition to playing percussion, clarinet and the piano.
Tonally, the Underworld myth is told in a light-hearted fashion, using puppets and animal motifs to evoke the days of Arcadia. The Mechanicals segment in A Midsummer Night’s Dream comes to mind, deliberately playing up the artificlal ‘performance’ of the enterprise. Orpheus doesn’t take the telling of the myth too seriously, but the performance of the music is a different matter – played with gusto and verve. It is in this capacty that the show succeeds – an ode to music itself and the ‘language’ that allows the power of love to transcend even death.
© Michael Davis 2018
Orpheus runs at Battersea Arts Centre until 30th December.