It was only very late on Sunday night, even after Something Understood, that I decided to buy a ticket for tonight’s showing of Orpheus at the Battersea Arts Centre, having worked out that this was my only opportunity. A schlep from work and a bigger schlep home, but that’s okay. It was a shame that the 345 only brought me there ten minutes or so before the start of the show, which meant I couldn’t take in the specially dressed bars beforehand.
Immediately in front of the stage there were tables, some of them cordoned off and reserved, for the full cabaret experience (there was a special Orpheus menu):
In front of me I saw someone composing what they call an “Instagram”, adding some nonsense filters to a workaday photo like mine, for extra poignancy.
The programme (only 50p, which the people collecting tickets in front of me oddly spurned), contained detailed timings, which I appreciated. First was a musical prologue, introducing the band and the players (the same people, of course), with a chorus-narrated precis of the plot. The band comprised the Django Reinhardt figure on guitar, three ladies playing double bass, violin and accordion, the Eurydice figure playing flute and the impromptu MC, a drummer/percussionist and clarinettist, with a pianist also occasionally acting as conductor.
It would be difficult to restrict this piece to a single genre, which is a good thing. A mixture of cabaret, opera, puppetry, music, all performed with verve and a wink. Indeed, I think the highest achievement of the night was the very careful balance between comedy and pathos, which is a difficult trick, the one most often undermining the other. What must have been strenuous rehearsing allowed very quick changes by the actors/performers and of the stage sets, riding on the audience’s reactions as appropriate.
After the interval, there was a musical interlude, during parts of which Eurydice wandered amongst the audience, summoning a drink on a silver tray from the other side of the Grand Hall, and clinking it with revellers, while the band played. (At the time I was frustrated because I didn’t know what they were playing, even though I recognised some of the tunes. When I properly read the programme, there was a full list of all the music.)
There were still some comedic elements in the third act, but the dramatic and emotional pitch was raised, including an affecting Persephone song sung very successfully at a challenging pitch by the percussionist and a stirring piece during the attempted escape from the underworld, which was a suitable climax.
I think it’s a production that’s quite brave and it shows the confidence of Little Bulb even to attempt it, never mind to achieve such a success. In fact it first arose in my awareness when someone very politely handed me a flyer, possibly outside a Union Chapel event. He seemed very pleased that I’d taken it and that made me actually read it, which isn’t always the case. At the time of writing there are still seats available for Wednesday 8th and the Saturday matinee and I recommend it very strongly. Orphée is one of my favourite films and this is a very different, very high quality addition to that canon. Some of the cast were in the bar afterwards, as promised, and I wish I hadn’t been too preoccupied with the trek home to thank them before I left.