Tonight’s theatre trip comes with a pretty good pedigree: It shares a director, Bijan Sheibani, with my favourite production of 2009, as well as that show’s resident eye candy, Rhys Rusbatch. And as with Our Class Sheibani chooses to play Eurydice in the round, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Sarah Ruhl’s version of the Orpheus myth is an altogether less tangible piece. As the title suggests, Ruhl looks more at the female half of the famous couple, and we see a lot of Eurydice (Ony Uhiara) adjusting to life in the underworld; the writer also makes her responsible for Orpheus’ mistake in turning round to look at her.
It’s a strange, lyrical little play heavy in symbolism, most notably that of water. Patrick Burnier’s set is a large metal grill, and water showers down, fountains up, and memorably floods part of the stage to represent the river Lethe. Eurydice’s dead father (Geff Francis aka Viv from Ashes to Ashes) writes his daughter a letter that reaches her through the possibly supernatural Nasty Interesting Man (Rusbatch.) Following this letter leads to her untimely demise, and while Orpheus (Osi Okerafor) tries to reach her we see the father and daughter reunited in the underworld, with a grumpy commentary from a chorus of stones. This is in fact the central relationship (Ruhl dedicates the play to her own father) and at times the play seems an allegory for Alzheimers, but with the usual roles reversed: The river of forgetfulness is a recurring theme, the father wasn’t dipped in it long enough to properly forget his life, so he’s heartbroken when his daughter arrives having had her memory wiped, and with no recollection of who he is. They work together to bring her identity back in time for Orpheus’ failed rescue mission though, and as the story goes on to see how she copes with being left behind some of the writer’s intentions feel a bit muddied.
It’s a bittersweet little story rather than a tragedy and like I say at times the writing lost its focus in my opinion but it’s saved by Sheibani’s production to make for a fantastical, slightly eerie experience with a good few memorable images – including a lovely moment where Francis has been making weird shapes on the stage with a ball of string, and you suddenly realise exactly what it is he’s been doing to make his daughter’s stay in the underworld more bearable. The cast are all good, and I suspect that after working on a drama with him last year the director cast Rhys Rusbatch (looking even fitter than I remembered him, although sadly he doesn’t flash the other nipple this time to make a full set) in this to showcase his comic talents that didn’t get an outing last time. As two characters (or more likely two aspects of the same character?) Rusbatch has a shert but scene-stealing time on stage, first as the charming-but-cheesy Nasty Interesting Man who tries to seduce Eurydice on her wedding day, then as the Lord of the Underworld, reimagined as a petulant child with a trike and a water-pistol. The play itself is decent, the production elevates it to something very memorable and dreamlike.
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl is booking until the 5th of June at the Young Vic’s Maria.