Way into the way down

Orpheus (The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledegook Theatre)

Theatre Republic, La Boite Studio

September 17 – 21

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Despite its title, “Orpheus” is not a scholarly show. The internationally award-winning retell of its titular ancient myth is about single and just-turned-30 Dave and is realised thorough spoken word and original soul music (but also some familiar songs we all know and can therefore join in singalong inclusion).

The two-hander starts with a spoiler as we are told of the tragic outcome from show’s outset; this is a story, after all, of how love can survive even death. To begin, we are taken back to see it unfold from the first meeting that begins Orpheus and Eurydice’s remarkable and precious time together, when Dave (our Orpheus) is out with the lads and a little bit pissed having a beer and a laugh. From there the story takes us through superheros, Springsteen and some pretty atrocious karaoke to him meeting Eurydice. That is until, after a whirlwind romance, he is left inconsolably lonely and alone again in a colourless world.

Like Eurydice does with Orpheus, Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger’s 2016 work fills our world with colour. This is a spoken word piece (shared from a special notebook) with music, rather than drama of the traditional play sort … and there are a lot of words within it, all of them perfectly placed. The imagery created through the script’s figurative language is moving in its beauty as much as it’s precision. Its style is mostly lyrical but there is also an appealing John Cooper Clarke-ish characteristic to its language and performance style. The Northern English rhythm to the delivery makes for some powerful slam-poetry-esque moments that are then tempered by a delicacy of ideas. Having raked audience seating facing off against each other on either side of the intimate La Boite Studio stage is not an issue, especially comparative to the impact of the obtrusive bright lights of the show’s early scenes, though this softens as action is taken way down to Hadestown.

With infectious big energy, Tom Figgins and Phil Grainger serve as the audience guides through this mesmerising story. While Figgins tells the tale of death-defying love in spoken word, Grainger’s acoustic guitar accompaniment skilfully warms the story while his rough-around-edges vocal sounds (#inagoodway) add authenticity to the adaptation’s sensibility.

“Orpheus” is an appealing show from its opening enthusiastic explanation of how expectation for a two week run has become 200+ performances later. This epic tale of gods re-imagined in modern day Britain is a truly genuine, memorable theatrical experience. Indeed, the ancient story of adventure, love and loss is told with such respect and affection that ‘I could watch again right now’, as my +1 remarked upon its conclusion.