First performed at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2013 by Little Bulb Theatre company, Orpheus returns to the venue that inspired the original performance for a short run five years on. The venue itself has recently reopened, a phoenix from the ashes, after a devastating fire in 2015. The full renovation of the building’s interior entices the audience in as they make their way to the Grand Hall, where the performance will take place. Passing a long corridor with exposed stonework, a foyer area with a beautiful dome roof, and then through a bar area decorated in an industrial yet sophisticated manner the Grand Hall is finally presented. A true work of art: old stonework is integrated with new wood panels in a multipurpose venue which has been transformed into a theatre.
The concept of this performance sounds slightly strange and complicated but works perfectly. The actors, who also happen to be extremely talented musicians, play a troupe performing in a 1930s jazz bar in Paris. With the beautiful ceiling hanging above, the female lead “Yvette Pepin” (played by Eugenie Pastor), welcomes the audience to this special performance of Orpheus, in an over excitable Edith Piaf like French accent. The performance had barely started, but the audience is fully transported back in time. As the troupe plays musical interludes, almost as though to warm up the crowd, the male lead “Django Reinhardt” (played by Dominic Conway), enters the stage. With a piercing stare, he believes he is the star of the show and takes a strong, testosterone-filled bow, as the female trio on stage fawn over him. These are different times, this is 1930s Paris.
When the performance gets into full swing, “Django Reinhardt” portrays Orpheus and “Yvette Pepin” portrays Eurydice. This all sounds more complicated than it really is. The female trio (played by Miriam Gould, Shamira Turner and Clare Beresford) as well as the male duo (played by Alexander Scott and Tom Penn) play many roles throughout the performance and often cause the biggest rounds of laughter from the audience. The way they jump around the stage when playing animals or even move the different props during set changes, not very discreetly, needless to say, is truly hilarious. This technique of having silly visual humour is reminiscent of silent movies, an artform this performance definitely takes inspiration from.
As well as being masters of comedic timing, the actors are all also extremely talented musicians. The female and male leads play the flute and guitar respectively as well as singing in operatic style at times. The female trio sing as well as playing the accordion, violin and double bass. The fact that these actors can do so much and sustain it for two hours is truly mind blowing. The performance continuously tops itself and reaches its climax with Tom Penn’s take on “La Chanson de Persephone” in falsetto. The way he holds himself and portrays the character of Persephone in this emotive performance puts the audience in a hypnotic trance. Throughout the performance, music is used in both a comedic and emotive manner and the talent brought by the actors shines through it.
Although a slightly confusing concept at first, this performance is not one to be missed. Everything, from the font of the projected words on the curtain, to the mannerisms of the actors convinces the audience that they have been transported to a different time, without being cheap or tacky. As well as enjoying the performance, wines, cheese boards and more are available for those wanting a more comprehensive sensory experience. Anyone can find something to enjoy in this performance: from comedy to music or even history, the actors deliver in so many ways.
Orpheus is playing at the Battersea Arts Centre until 30th December with tickets starting at £15.