Orpheus at Bristol Old Vic

Orpheus-press-3-credit John Hunter for RULER
Photo by John Hunter for RULER

On Wednesday 23rd of September at the Bristol Old Vic, I was transported back to 1930’s Paris, to a smoky jazz club with an art nouveau feel. The Little Bulb theatre company were promising to take us on a journey that evening, and regaling us with the tale of the most haunting love story ever told, that of Orpheus and his love Eurydice. Our host for the evening is Yvette Pepin, played by Eugenie Pastor. She is the mistress, the songstress with more than a echo of Edith Piaf about her, and she will be playing Eurydice in this opulent production at her club. Django Reinhardt, played by Dominic Conway has been cast as her Orpheus. Its a tale of high drama, of love, tragedy and pathos. A simple tale of boy meets girl, but with grand origins. You see, Orpheus is the son of Greek god Apollo. Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, and they marry. But their love affair is short lived, as her life is tragically cut short. Heartbroken, Orpheus follows her to the Underworld, where he must reclaim his lost love back by appealing to Pluto the God of Hades. So not quite your average ‘boy meets girl’ then.

This production of Orpheus by Little Bulb has a lavish and decadent feel. What cements the show together is the quality of the music performed by the actors, each of whom was also an accomplished musician. Although all eyes were on Orpheus and Eurydice, for me the standout performers of the night were Shamira Turner, Miriam Gould and Clare Beresford, who played the Triplettes de L’Antiquite. Their vocal performances were impeccable, their musicianship was tight, their comic timing was spot on, and they absolutely made the show. I also feel that Tom Penn deserves a mention here too. His falsetto voice in the role of Persephone as she sings a haunting lament begging for Eurydice to be freed sent shivers up and down my spine. In amongst some of the general silliness and physical comedy of this show, a man dressed as a woman would be expected to provoke giggles. Instead it was incredibly beautiful, and hugely unexpected. People rarely get on their feet at the Old Vic; I would have got on my feet for his performance alone.

Orpheus was a show of two halves. After the first half my companions both felt that is was good. Not breathtaking in its brilliance, but, well, just good. The second half was so much better, and we all got swept up in it. Perhaps because more was made of the tragedy, and we were rooting for Orpheus to win back his love. The musical scenes in the second half were so good, so engaging it was easy to get swept along. After the show we went to the nearby live music venue The Old Duke as Orpheus left us wanting more. And the band? An amazing ragtime jazz band called the Budapest Ragtime Band. It was perfect serendipity, we LOVE you Bristol!

I would like to mention how much I love the Old Vic, and its commitment to putting on such an eclectic and diverse range of theatre. Only 4 nights previously, I was reviewing a really contemporary piece of theatre in The Encounter which pushed the boundaries, and then next on this bill is Orpheus, a much more traditional theatrical show. I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves for their 250th anniversary next year.

Orpheus is running until Saturday 26th October at The Bristol Old Vic

Review by Karen Blake

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