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Orpheus in the Underworld

“Flashes of comic brilliance”
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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.

Production Details
Production nameOrpheus in the Underworld
VenueBloomsbury Theatre
LocationLondon
StartsJuly 22, 2019
EndsJuly 23, 2019
Running time2hrs 45mins
ComposerJacques Offenbach
DirectorJeff Clarke
ConductorToby Purser
ChoreographerJenny Arnold
Set designerElroy Ashmore, Maria Lancashire
Lighting designerIan Wilson
CastAnthony Flaum, Daire Halpin, Dickon Gough, Katharine Taylor-Jones, Lynsey Docherty, Paul Featherstone, Tristan Stocks
ProducerOpera Della Luna
VerdictDespite flashes of comic brilliance, the anarchic energy of Offenbach’s extravaganza remains elusive
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