The story of Orpheus in the Underworld is one of those that has pretty much been done to death. There are many different versions of it, ranging from high opera down to a Jim Henson storytime show telling the story of the doomed love of the musician famed for his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music and his attempt to retrieve his dead wife from the underworld. Surely, the world doesn’t need another version? Well, actually they do and so off I went to the Linbury Studio Theatre, under the Royal Opera House to see The Little Bulb Theatre Company’s production of “Orpheus”
The setting is a Parisian theatre in the 1930s where legendary musician Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway) is playing the role of Orpheus in an evening hosted by songstress Yvette Pépin (Eugenié Pastor) who also plays the role of Orpheus’ wife Eurydice in one of the most bizarre tellings of the story anyone has ever seen. Also taking part in the show are the Triplettes De L’Antiquité (Clare Beresford, Miriam Gould and Shamira Turner) and two actor stage hands (Tom Penn and Alexander Scott) all under the watchful eye of The Master of the Keys, Charles (Charlie Penn). Together, this talented crew bring the story of Orpheus to life over the course of three acts – with prologue, intermission entertainment and epilogue.
As I descended the stairs below the Opera House to the theatre, it struck me, that this was almost a metaphor for the story itself. Taking my seat, listening to background French style music and looking at the stage I was amazed at how wide it was. Musicals instruments at either side, with a large golden proscenium arch and red velvet curtain drawing the eye as the only colourful aspect of the set. Almost immediately, I was lost in the world of the French theatre and the production being put on. Just in case there were audience members not familiar with the story, Yvette Pépin gave us a quick run-through and then we were away with the prologue and I can honestly say I was hooked from that moment on.
It is really difficult to discuss the production as it is something that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. In the program, it states that the show was written and devised by The Company and I think this translated really well into the production as the entire cast really seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. I will say that whilst it is bizarre, this was a superbly entertaining production with puppets, lovely costumes, shocks and surprises throughout. The music, which is a combination of recorded and live – performed by the multi-talented cast – is eclectic to say the least, with everything from original compositions by the company (just how talented are these people?) through music by the real Django Reinhardt, songs from Edith Piaf to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – talk about something for everyone. The thing is, as mixed as the music is, it all fits perfectly with the production itself. A lot of credit has to be given to Director Alexander Scott for managing to put on such a superb show within a show within a show, making fantastic use of the stage (with a lovely set by Mary Drummond) and keeping everything moving at a fast but highly appropriate pace.
Having mentioned already how wonderful the entire cast were, I want to quickly single out Eugenié Pastor as Yvette/Eurydice who was all sweetness and light when talking to the audience but was a complete tyrant with the rest of the performers in the Parisian Theatre in a truly lovely piece of acting – and she is the first person I have ever seen play a swanee whistle properly. I also want to give a quick mention to Tom Penn who not only puts his heart and soul into his percussion playing but also provided me with the biggest surprise in an evening full of them.
At the end of this production of “Orpheus” I was aware that whist I had not grasped every nuance of the show I had been both blown away by its total bizarreness, and treated to an awesome evening’s entertainment.
Review by Terry Eastham
Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus is an astonishingly original musical re-imagining of the epic Greek myth inspired by the music of legendary jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt.
1930s Paris: charismatic songstress Yvette Pépin has cajoled the guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt, into joining her in a brand new production of Orpheus. He will play the tragic hero, she will play his lost love Eurydice. Together with her troupe of operatic players she tells the thrilling tale of Orpheus’s ill-fated descent into the underworld, set to a live score of hot club jazz, opera and French chanson.
Music has played an integral part in all of Little Bulb’s past productions but Orpheus puts it right at its heart: it is entirely sung-through in a veritable musical feast including original compositions alongside Bach, Monteverdi, Edith Piaf and Debussy. In developing the show, members of the Company learnt the double bass, clarinet and slide-whistle from scratch then hit the road to play gigs across the UK as a real-life jazz band. To elevate his guitar technique to that of a maestro, performer Dominic Conway trained and lived alongside Lollo Meier, a travelling guitar virtuoso much like Django Reinhardt.
Orpheus is written and devised by Little Bulb Theatre and directed by Alexander Scott, with design by Mary Drummond, puppets by Max Humphries and sound design by Ed Clarke. It is performed by Clare Beresford, Dominic Conway, Miriam Gould, Eugénie Pastor, Charlie Penn, Tom Penn, Alexander Scott and Shamira Turner. Orpheus is a Little Bulb Theatre and Battersea Arts Centre co-production.
Orpheus will tour to the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio Theatre as part of the 2015 Deloitte Ignite Festival (15-19 Sept), Bristol Old Vic (23-26 September), Nuffield Southampton (29 September-3 October), Liverpool Everyman (20-24 October) and Birmingham Repertory Theatre (28-31 October).
Listings information: Orpheus on tour in autumn 2015
Deloitte Ignite, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio Theatre
15 – 19 September
Performances Tues-Fri at 19:45, Sat at 13:30 & 18:00
Book tickets: www.roh.org.uk 020 7304 4000
Bristol Old Vic
23 – 26 September
Performances Weds-Fri at 19:30, Sat at 14:30 & 19:30
Book tickets: www.bristololdvic.org.uk 0117 987 7877
29 September – 3 October
Performances Tues-Fri at 19:30, Sat at 14:30 & 19:30
Book tickets: www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk 023 8067 1771
20 – 24 October
Performances Tues, Weds, Fri at 19:30; Thurs at 17:30; Sat at 14:00 & 19:30
Book tickets: www.everymanplayhouse.com 0151 709 4776
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
28 – 31 October
Performances Weds & Thurs at 19:00; Fri & Sat at 19:45
Book tickets: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk 0121 236 4455
Friday 18th September 2015