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Theatre review: Orpheus in the Underworld 
1st-Dec-2011 11:15 pm
One of my very rare ventures into opera tonight, although according to the programme "operetta" is the correct term in the case of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Either way, as usual I can only review it as a piece of theatre, and wouldn't know where to start with critiquing the singing. Rory Bremner's English-language libretto updates the action to present-day spoilt celebrities, a move which, based on the programme notes (it's a rather good value programme by the way - detailed synopsis, page-long Offenbach biography and two decent-sized essays for £2) isn't that far a leap from the Paris society it originally satirised. Eurydice (Jane Harrington) is a grotesque reality TV star whose Hello magazine-courting marriage to Orpheus (Nicholas Sharratt) doesn't seem like such a good idea when his star begins to fade and they realise they can't stand each other. When her lover Aristaeus (Gavan Ring) turns out to be Lord of the Underworld Pluto in disguise and takes her to his domain, Orpheus is glad to see the back of her. But the newspapers, represented by Máire Flavin's Public Opinion, demand he keep up the pretence of a loving husband and try to get her resurrected. Jupiter (Brendan Collins) and the other gods decide to join him on a jolly to Hell as a break from the tedium of life on Olympus.

Weirdly, this is the second reinterpretation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth I've seen in this theatre, The Maria, but this one was less to my taste than last year's offering. Bremner's text and Oliver Mears' production do have some clever gags - I really enjoyed Diana, goddess of the Hunt (Daire Halpin) coming a cropper because of the Hunting Ban, and there's some great pictorial representations of Jupiter's bizarre courting technique, especially the one about appearing to Danaë as golden rain. But far more of the attempts at topicality fall flat; there's a very creaky Louis Walsh reference and when the god Mars started eating a Mars bar it got an actual groan from the audience, the point at which I really started to think I'd stumbled into a panto. In the opening scene by Orpheus and Eurydice's swimming pool I was reminded far more than I would like of The God of Soho, and I could mention the acting style but I do appreciate that these are people cast for their singing. I certainly wouldn't call the evening a total loss (although there were quite a few non-returnees after the interval who I guess disagreed) as the show's intermittently entertaining, Christopher Diffey as Mercury and Ross McInroy as Mars are nice to look at, and surely you can't entirely dislike a show that ends with its most famous tune "Galop," better known as the can-can.

On a different matter, anyone who knows more about opera, is the following normal? In the interval the woman behind me said to, I guess, her daughter: "By the way if you tap your feet again in the second act I will kill you. Tapping your feet when someone else is playing music is incredibly rude." Is it? I would have thought it meant you quite liked the music but what do I know? For the record, if I was ever at a gig, musical, opera etc where I sat completely motionless and did not engage with the music at all, that was probably not meant as a compliment.

Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach in a version by Rory Bremner is booking until the 10th of December at the Young Vic's Maria.
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