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Orpheus in the Underworld review at Bloomsbury Theatre, London – ‘flashes of comic brilliance’

Opera della Luna's Orpheus in the Underworld at Bloomsbury Theatre. Photo: Craig Fuller
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Jeff Clarke – artistic director of Opera della Luna, a company that turns 25 this year – is endlessly inventive. Just look at his treatment of Offenbach’s ‘galop infernal’, better known as the can-can. No high-kicking girls here, but four acrobatic male dancers, costumed as tousle-headed, tutued skeletons. After all, we are in Hell, as Paul Featherstone’s mournful John Styx, channelling David Cameron, reminds us with a merciless Brexit joke.

Though the script has clearly been revised since the production’s premiere in 2015, some other satirical glosses (such as referencing #MeToo) sound marginally past their sell-by date. Overall, the comic momentum is not purposeful enough to disguise the operetta’s haphazard structure. In a brilliant stroke, Public Opinion (Katharine Taylor-Jones) becomes an earnest Arts Council officer, but her final box-ticking triumph almost gets submerged in the show’s quick-and-dirty resolution.

The design is striking, especially the bordello-chic Hades, the sumptuous Second Empire costume for Euridice as Bacchante (Daire Halpin, spouting dizzy coloratura) and a red-coated, white-haired Diana the Huntress, who looks more like a Camilla (Lynsey Docherty, a mistress of body language). Most memorable of all is the moment on Olympus when the gods disrobe to statuesque foam-rubber nakedness.

In the title role, Tristan Stocks, got up as Paganini, turns out to be a tenor who also plays the violin remarkably well. Dickon Gough’s sonorous, rather gentlemanly Jove is up against Anthony Flaum’s Pluto, a suave bounder who takes bold command of his music and the stage. The score bowls along in fine style under the baton of Toby Purser.

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Verdict
Despite flashes of comic brilliance, the anarchic energy of Offenbach’s extravaganza remains elusive
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