Get our free email newsletter with just one click

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
by -

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.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Despite flashes of comic brilliance, the anarchic energy of Offenbach’s extravaganza remains elusive