Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

Image result for orpheus little bulb

by Laura Kressly

All of Little Bulb’s work I’ve seen has been thoroughly infused with joy. Though this story ends in loss and grief, their Parisian cabaret-style Orpheus is no different.

A red velvet curtain is the backdrop for an eight-piece band of actor-musicians and the pair of doomed lovers, Orpheus and Eurydice. It opens to reveal an old school, two-dimensional set and silent film subtitles, complete with over-the-top physical performances that keep the audience chuckling. The scenes are brief and pacy, punctuated by a score of original and recognisable tunes.

Turning a tragedy into a mostly-comedy is a bold move, and one that, in this instance, consistently works. The epilogue adds a sharp punch of grief, and works as a reverse-catharsis that gives the myth, full of monsters and serpents and trips to hell and back, a touch of humanity.

The ensemble excel as both musicians and actors. Most of them don’t speak at all; they use melodramatic physicality and expression to convey character and define the show’s mood instead. Their comic timing is sound and there’s an engaging cheekiness that means the audience can’t help but laugh.

It’s a touch too long though, and there’s no need for the interval that comes about 30 minutes in. Though the music is fantastic, the post-interval set that doesn’t relate to the story unnecessarily drags things out. If I were a cynic, I’d say it’s solely to keep the cabaret audience eating and drinking from the bar and kitchen rather than for any other dramaturgical purpose (I’m a cynic).

But it’s still a wonderful show. lighthearted and well-performed, the production effectively tells the classic story of love and loss with the addition of excellent music and a strong concept. No wonder it’s been touring for a couple of years now, and may it continue to do so.

Orpheus runs through 30 December.

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