Orpheus at the Battersea Arts Centre: a delight for the eyes and the ears
Alberto Tondello reviews Orpheus, a Little Bulb Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre Co-Production performing at Battersea Arts Centre.
Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus returns to Battersea Arts Centre after its first run five years ago, transforming the recently reopened Grand Hall into a Parisian Cabaret. The show reimagines the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, transporting the tale to 1930s Paris. Forgetting most of the tragedy and dramatic undertones of the myth, Orpheus is a light-hearted, highly entertaining adaptation, narrated through music and mime.
The balance and interaction between Greek myth and Parisian Jazz age works perfectly well throughout the play. A hilarious and energetic character going by the name of Yvette Pépin (Euénie Pastor), welcomes the audience in perfect music-hall style, creating a relaxed atmosphere that will be maintained until the end of the play. With dramatic movements and a French accent reminiscent of Edith Piaf, Yvette Pepin plays the double role of hostess and Eurydice, introducing the key moments of the play and floating on stage in a white dress and a crown of flowers. Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway) plays the part of Orpheus, as the Greek demi-god enchants all living things, audience included, with the sound not of a lyre but of a guitar. The two main actors are supported by a highly skilled and extremely amusing chorus, playing the minor characters of the myth (from Hades and Persephone to birds and animals), and several of the musical pieces.
Divided in three acts, the major events of the tragic love story unfold to the sound of music. While pieces by, amongst others, Django Reinhardt, Edith Piaf, Debussy, and Bach are performed with dexterity, it is the original compositions of the company that really stand out. Even if it narrates a well-know myth, summarised in one song during the musical epilogue, the company’s imaginative take on it results in an utterly immersive and captivating show. During the performance, spoken words become unnecessary as the bodies of the actors move in harmony with the music, perfectly combining human gestures, voices, and instrumental sounds. With their energy and precision, the company manages to enchant the audience and recreate the pathos of a Greek myths with effective expressions and movements. With an extremely simple setting and even simpler props, Orpheus shows theatre’s ability to create a whole universe out of almost nothing.
Orpheus’s descent to the underworld in search of Eurydice is made particularly poignant by Tom Penn’s jaw-dropping performance in the guise of Persephone. While the last two pieces of the epilogue are beautifully sung, these last moments feel slightly unnecessary. The show reaches such a powerful climax at the moment of Orpheus and Eurydice’s ascent from the underworld that anything coming afterwards appears as a surplus.
Orpheusmanages to convey theatre’s most essential magic, transporting the audience to a completely different dimension for the duration of the performance, and making it forget about anything else. Music and mine create an enchanted and hypnotic atmosphere, helped by the setting of a Grand Hall that lands itself perfectly well for a cabaret reinvention. After the play, you will almost certainly leave the theatre with a smile on your face, humming jazz songs, and wishing the show had last for longer.
Orpheus will play at Battersea Arts Centre until the 30th December, 2018.
Production and feature photograph credit: Adam Trigg