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Review of Orpheus and Eurydice at The Rose Playhouse Bankside

Photographer: Robert Piwko

Remarkably for a work that premiered in 1762, Christoph Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice remains beautifully accessible, particularly in the intimate setting of one of central London’s earliest theatres, the Rose. Yes you read that right.

This piece is currently playing amid the archaeological excavations of a theatre built on Bankside in 1587 for Philip Henslowe, whose stagings included Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy and Shakespeare’s Henry VI part I and Titus Andronicus.

The Swan and the nearby Globe followed the success of the Rose, which was abandoned soon afterwards and in the early 17th century vanished from the map altogether until 1988, when the demolition of an office block uncovered the site for investigation. Hundreds of small objects found on the site included jewellery, coins, tokens and fragments of the money boxes used to collect cash on the door.

In this production, the small audience sits around an intimate wooden platform with just enough room for the players and a small ensemble including harp and flute, challenging conditions handled with exquisite timing by MD Andrew Charity. The red rope-lights around the larger part of site show the size of the Rose, its courtyard or pit and the position of its two stages, much of it submerged by a lake. The lights double up in this piece as the flames of red-hued Hades. The dark cave beneath the commercial development on top, with the watery interior and the perilous pits and ledges navigated by the actors and chorus in several scenes, lend a surreal underworld naturalism to the piece.

Beyond this, the acoustic is simply mind-blowing, as anyone who has enjoyed singing and making echoes in caves can imagine it would be. The vocal power of the petite Mimi Doulton, a choral scholar at King’s College London who is reading Music with French and Russian, seemed literally, not merely metaphorically, from another world. Like many young opera singers of today her acting is also skilled. The sense of privilege at seeing this up-and-coming star play Eurydice in this setting was almost overwhelming. Established tenor Robin Green as Orpheus was magnificent and dark in his tragic passion. Darja Scukina as Amor, with her honest face and true, open voice, makes us hope for happy ending in spite of the torment. The opera is performed in English and every single word was clear, making it a quite difference experience from more classical performances. For this reviewer, being able to understand every allusion, every twist and turn of every emotion, made it all the more gripping and hence enjoyable.

Director Pamela Schermann writes in the programme that she had long wanted to direct this opera at that site, having visited it years before. “After all, which other venue could have provided me with an underworld like that, including a lake as threshold between life and death? The intimacy of the space allows me to play scenes in close proximity to the audience, but at the same time I can create strong visual images by making full use of the excavation site.

The plot is well known – Orhpheus is granted the chance by Jupiter to rescue his much loved but deceased bride from the underworld, but must lead her out without looking back. A community choir serves as the spectral chorus and at the end, even the audience, each one of us, was pulled into the action and onto the stage where a delicious treat was given. To find out what that is, you’ll just have to go along and taste this remarkable piece of theatre for yourself.

Review by Ruth Gledhill


The opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck is based on the myth of Orpheus, who goes to the Underworld to save his wife Eurydice. Together with musical director Andrew Charity (musical director of the OLIVIER-award winning production of La Boheme in 2009), Pamela Schermann directs this opera in the very unique space of the Rose Playhouse, Bankside for 12 performances in June 2014.

Listings Information
The Rose, Bankside
56 Park Street London SE1 9AR
Dates: 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 28 June 2014 at 7.30pm (Sun at 3pm).
Box office: 0207 261 9565 – boxoffice@rosetheatre.org.uk
Tickets: £ 16 (£ 12 Concessions)


Friday 6th June 2014


  • Ruth Gledhill

    Ruth Gledhill, on Twitter @ruthiegledhill, contributes regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Ruth Gledhill has worked on The Times from 1987 to 2014. Before that she was a news reporter and feature writer on The Daily Mail. She wrote her first theatre review, Tennessee Williams 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', while serving indentures at The Birmingham Post & Mail. After leaving the Midlands in 1984 she decided to concentrate on news. She is delighted to be able to revive her love of writing about the stage as a critic for London Theatre. Public profile http://journalisted.com/ruth-gledhill

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