Friday, May 07, 2010

Eurydice at the Young Vic

This retelling of the Orpheus story by American playwright Sarah Ruhl is primarily a play about memory.

It’s a touching if whimsical piece. Orpheus and Eurydice are very much in love, giddy with it. His head may be full of music but he still has room in there for her. They get married, but on her wedding night, while chasing after a letter from her late father, she slips and falls into the black below.

The underworld is a place where people forget. You are dipped in the river and come out clean. Eurydice’s deceased but dapper dad is something of an anomaly – he still knows how to read and write; he still remembers. When Eurydice arrives in the underworld (by elevator) her father knows her but she does not know him. She speaks the language of the dead, a language without music, without memory. Books baffle her. Her father gradually teaches her who he is, who she is. He constructs a room out of string so they can be together again.

Bijan Sheibani’s production began life at the Plymouth Drum and fits snugly into the Young Vic’s Maria Studio. The floor is made of metal mesh and water fountains up from the ground as well as raining down from above. There’s an intentional Alice in Wonderland quality to the piece: once in Hades, Eurydice encounters a chorus of stones (who, hard as they are, eventually weep at Orpheus’ lament) and a Lord of the Underworld, who is a little more than a brat on a souped-up tricycle.

Ony Uhiara is wide-eyed and engaging as Eurydice, sometimes childlike, sometimes wise, but it’s Geff Francis, as her father, who gives the production its heart; Eurydice’s relearning of herself and the bond she forms once more with her father are very movingly played. Orpheus’ quest to find his wife feels secondary and the awful moment when, attempting to lead her home, he turns and sees her is somewhat swallowed up.

Ruhl’s language can be a little to arch, too aware of its own poetry, but it’s potent when it needs to be. Sheibani’s production, which reunites him with his Brothers Size designer Patrick Burnier, is minimalist in its approach yet not short on atmosphere; light and water are used to create a dreamlike feeling.

At times, however, it takes on a foggy quality and the piece, as a whole, feels overlong; though the middle section of the play is magical and moving, it becomes drawn out and repetitive towards the end. It's left to a touching coda showing Orpheus’ return to the underworld – and the thought of all that music wiped away – to provide a final emotional kick.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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