views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Orpheus and Eurydice
The Rose
7th June 2014


Mimi Doulton and Robin Green as Eurydice and Orphues

Photography © Robert Piwko

As with all mythology, there are several versions of Orpheus and Eurydice. However, Ovid's inclusion of the unfortunate lovers in The Metamorphoses is perhaps one of the most well-known, and there's something satisfying about the inherent tragedy of his tale, with its horrifically brutal conclusion. After losing Eurydice a second time, Orpheus is overwhelmed by grief, shuns all other females and is eventually ripped to pieces by a bunch of drunk Ciconian women. It's a double whammy of misery.

In Time Zone Theatre's production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's 18th-century opera Orpheus and Eurydice, there is no body floating down the sea towards Lesbos, there is instead celebratory cake and bubbles. It's a more uplifting ending, and perhaps one which many will enjoy, but if you have ever studied classics, you do feel cheated. Particularly when The Rose is made up of a large expanse of water - call me heartless, but it feels like a wasted opportunity that we don't see floating body parts.

However, if you can get past your preconceptions or if you just have kinder sensibilities, this is a rather beautiful opera, which director Pamela Schermann has adapted to the space very well. The Rose can only be described as delightfully unique, I've not yet come across another theatre which essentially has a lake in the middle, and when visiting companies see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge, they tend to strike gold.

The chorus of Orpheus and Eurydice

Photography © Robert Piwko

No stranger to The Rose, Schermann gets it absolutely right, using both the main stage to show us the ill-fated couple's anguish close up, and the back space to represent the descent into the Underworld and attempted escape. The red lights which weave through the theatre to illustrate the original Rose are used to great effect here, with lighting designer Petr Vockald creating an ominous uplighting effect that evokes Hades' fearful kingdom.

Orpheus (Robin Green) and Eurydice (Mimi Doulton) are dressed in modern clothing, with Schermann going as far as to turn Orpheus into a sad sack wandering around in his boxers knocking back the hard stuff when his bride is taken from him. Some will undoubtedly find this jarring, but it's a very clear, relatable, modern image, and the story has been changed so much that frankly, it doesn't matter if this is set as a period piece or not. Consider this a tale inspired by Greek mythology rather than the original myth itself.

Although the orchestra cram into a small space behind one of the wings of the fixed thrust layout, because The Rose itself is so cavernous, the acoustics are utterly fantastic. When Green and Doulton wander to the very back of the venue, their voices carry all the way to the audience, and there's never any fighting with the musicians. From a technical perspective, this is incredibly accomplished, with musical director Andrew Charity guiding Julian Fish, Hannah Grayson and Anne Denholm to dizzy heights.

Green and Doulton show us unadulterated joy - although very briefly - and plenty of torment. The sheer emotion in their performances is so captivating, it makes it very easy to follow the piece, even if you're not a regular opera patron. As Amor, Darja Scukina is more upbeat and playful, and wrestles back the tone to something more light-hearted.

This may not be the story that I came to hear, but this production of Orpheus and Eurydice is poignant, tender and never fails to move. Time Zone Theatre have taken Gluck's opera and moulded it to The Rose so carefully that it seems impossible to imagine this staged anywhere else.

Orpheus and Eurydice opened on 3rd June and runs until 28th June 2014 at The Rose.

Nearest tube station: London Bridge (Jubilee, Northern)

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