Orpheus at Battersea Arts Centre: A Musical Feast

Orpheus: The Cast (Photo: James Allan)

Orpheus: The Cast (Photo: James Allan)

What do you get when you combine the best elements of 1930′s hot jazz, Baroque opera, French chanson, Classical Greek tragedy and even silent film? Something like the alchemy of Orpheus, Little Bulb Theatre’s tremendous production, which has returned to the Great Hall at Battersea Arts Centre, transforming the theatre space into an opulent Parisian cabaret.

Orpheus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, true lovers doomed to tragedy. After Orpheus charms Eurydice with his musical prowess, and the two fall in love, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and fades into the Underworld. Orpheus, overcome by grief, descends into the Underworld and attempts to persuade Hades, Lord of the Underworld, to return his love to life. Here, Orpheus is transposed for the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (played by an expressive Dominic Conway, whose musicianship comes close to that of the great Django himself), armed with a guitar instead of a lyre. Eurydice, acted with gusto by Eugenie Pastor, captures the witticisms and gestures of the great chanteuse Yvette Pepin. She also serves as the MC for the evening.

Expect much singing, dancing and grand dramatic gestures, not out of place in this vibrant operatic setting, albeit one which does not take itself too seriously. The Orpheus myth framed within an opera/cabaret show works well, mixing a broad range of musical styles, such as the swing jazz version of Monteverdi’s Dal mio permesso amato as Orpheus leaves Hades, and Edith Piaf’s Padam Padam sung by Les Triplettes d’Antiquite. Persephone’s lament in Act III, an original musical composition, is heart-rending, as she pleads with Hades to reunite the lovers. Even the immense concert organ (circa 1901) is called into musical action, with a rendition of Bach’s ominous Toccata and Fugue in D minor played out before Orpheus’ journey into Hades to magnificent effect. The musical and dramatical virtuosity of the cast is delightful. This is a clever, exuberant take on a timeless myth, pleaseing to both the eyes and ears.

Orpheus continues at the Battersea Arts Centre until 17 May. Tickets: £15-£25, can be booked here. Londonist saw this performance courtesy of a complimentary ticket.

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