tue 16/10/2018

Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre | reviews, news & interviews

Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre

Delightful revamp of underworld myth with suave Parisian jazz guitarist

Little Bulb in Paris underworld

Orpheus, set in an imaginary Paris in the 1930s, delivers an unashamedly escapist and a quite delightful evening's entertainment. The Orpheus myth is often a pretext for fantasy or fun. Maybe the original, tragic tale is just too unremittingly dark and poignant. But while Offenbach, for example, camped and cancanned it up, and Cocteau found poetry in his vintage cars and his motorbikes, the Little Bulb company's twist on the story – in a co-production with Battersea Arts Centre - has been to make Orpheus into a suave guitarist - Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway) - and Eurydice (doubling as the evening's host) into a high-maintenance Piaf-inspired singer called Yvette Pepin (Eugénie Pastor).

That imaginary Paris is manifestly an English fake of the real thing. "Orpheus" (rather than Orphée) is repeatedly, deliberately incorrectly intoned by Pastor - in her other life she does academic research in French theatre, so she definitely does know better. Conversations about love take place over Gingham tablecloths, baguettes are brought on in baskets, the ooh-la-la has been bulk-bought.

The musical palette of the show goes way beyond gypsy jazz

However, amid this cultivated faux-Frenchness, two things are absolutely for real about this production, and together they make it a high-class evening: the dominant role which the company and its director Alexander Scott have thoughtfully given to music, and the versatility of the Little Bulb troupe as actors-singers-instrumentalists. To describe them as actors who play instruments and sing doesn't begin to do them justice. I found myself wondering what "occupation" they all put on their passports

As might be expected, gypsy jazz comes out well. Aficionados who know the nearby specialist club the Quecumbar - proprietor Sylvia Rushbrooke has helped with the production - will not be disappointed. This group can really swing "Dinah" or "Belleville" like the best of them. Conway plays idiomatically, and is superbly supported by a trio of Miriam Gould (violin), Shamira Turner (accordion), Clare Beresford (double bass), plus pianist Charlie Penn and drummer Tom Penn. The female trio, referred to as Les Triplettes de L'Antiquité, inject constant energy and joy throughout. Accordionist Shamira Turner's hilarious, knowing pout is worth the price of the ticket on its own.

The musical palette of the show goes way beyond gypsy jazz, with excursions into Monteverdi and Saint-Saëns, and a dramatised Debussy Clair de Lune, responding to every flutter and flicker of the music. The transitions from live to recorded music are seamless. The company has used the atmosphere of Battersea's cavernous 1890s Town Hall imaginatively; they've worked with the building rather than against it. They just couldn't, for example, resist the temptation to blow air - and Bach's D minor Toccata - through the venue's splendid four manual Norman and Beard organ.

I went on the first night rather than the press night, but there was nothing tentative or semi-cuit about it. This is a bold, confident, happy show.

Conversations about love take place over Gingham tablecloths, baguettes are brought on in baskets, the ooh-la-la has been bulk-bought


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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