The Greek myths have endured across the centuries partly because they are timeless stories which can be endlessly updated and reinvented. This is certainly the case with Orpheus and the version I am about to expand upon is actually my third during the pandemic. Previously I have followed the fortunes of a rock band in Myth and then those of a shop owner in Orpheus In the Record Shop. For, as I’m sure you’ll recall, music is absolutely at the centre of the tale. And so it also proves here in this joint production from The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre filmed at the Streatham Space Project.
Two companies in the persons of Alexander Flanagan-Wright and Phil Grainger; the first writes the words and the second composes the music. Both perform the piece and make a unified whole of what has come to be called gig theatre (see the start of this review – here – for a definition of the term) mixing what is essentially story telling, poetry and music with a dose of audience participation. The legend is more or less intact although Orpheus himself is now Dave an everyman figure who has reached his 30th birthday without achieving very much or going very far. Out on his birthday celebration he and his mates go into a bar where Springsteen is playing; his song “Dancing In The Dark” assumes the status of an anthem throughout the piece. Eurydice is still Eurydice, a wood nymph with whom Orpheus/Dave becomes besotted – enough to follow her down to the underworld when she suddenly dies. The rest of the tale is well known enough for it not to be repeated here and the key figures of Hades, Charon and Cerberus are all present and correct.
Flanagan-Wright starts out as friendly and relatable, chatting away to the audience as though they were all his best friends. But when the actual narrative starts he is transformed into a consummate story teller with a Bardic quality that suits the subject matter. His words leap off the page, almost literally as he works from a leather bound notebook. They crackle with an energy reminiscent of Dylan Thomas (or is that because I watched Under Milk Wood recently?) and elevate language to a place of mystical power. Meanwhile Grainger in a semi minstrel’s costume (colourful baggy pantaloons) provides constant underscoring roaming the stage plucking at an acoustic guitar and in between sections breaking into plangent songs which add to the haunting quality of the narrative.
The audience sit either side of a central walkway and are not distracted by scenery or props (notebook and guitar aside); even the lighting is unfussy and confined to creating a mood. Thus, it is the words and the music which take prominence creating their own atmosphere and providing connecting threads through the narrative. Most prominent of these is the telling use of colour throughout. Dave and his mates are grey; Eurydice by contrast shimmers in tones of yellow and blue; one of Grainger’s key songs has the lyric “Colour me in, so I’m not just black and white”. It’s a simple but highly effective trope which gives the audience a sense of the visual as well as the aural.
Apparently Orpheus has a sister show, simply called Eurydice, in which the myth is replayed from yet another perspective. As far as I can see that one hasn’t been captured on video, so we’ll all have to just imagine what that is like. But having been nudged into a realm of narrative and musical creativity by Flanagan-Wright and Grainger at least that’s going to be a whole lot easier now.
Orpheus is available on You Tube – click here
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