A 250-year-old opera is a difficult proposition for the Edinburgh Fringe, where the emphasis is frequently placed on innovation and experimentation. It is thus refreshing to discover that The About Turn Theatre Company’s production of Gluck’s
Fast-paced and powerful, with wonderful vocal performances and an innovative concept.
The classical myth of tragic hero Orpheus, journeying into the Underworld to rescue his love Eurydice from the clutches of death, is here turned on its head. The show opens in a hospital ward, where Eurydice (Olivia Clarke) is in a coma. Orpheus (Magid El-Bushra) grieves by her bed, unable to accept her condition and shying away from the friends who try to comfort him. But when Amore, the goddess of love (here deftly played as a motherly friend by Kate Reynolds) tells him that Eurydice will come back to life if he rescues her from the underworld, he begins a journey to save her. This journey is presented as a psychological odyssey, with the finale reinforcing the idea that this is a personal, rather than literal, quest.
This concept is bold and uncompromising, and is, for the most part, astonishingly well executed. In particular, Orpheus’ encounter with the Furies, the guardians of the gates of hell, is terrifying, made more so by the fact that it is combined with jarring sirens and flashing lights, recalling the car accident that injured Eurydice. Orpheus’ reunion with Eurydice is equally excellent, appearing both tender and also sad, as Orpheus realises that he cannot look at Eurydice until they escape hell, otherwise she will die forever.
Much of the power of these scenes has to be attributed to the wonderful performances of the leads. El-Bushra is a revelation as Orpheus, his voice emotive and rich, moving quickly from depression to hope to distress, without a stumble. Olivia Clarke is also excellent as Eurydice, and her relationship with El-Bushra is genuine and honest. The music is impressive, sounding much larger than the three musicians that constitute the orchestra. The chorus also perform admirably in their various roles, whether they are playing friends, furies or garden gnomes.
Garden gnomes? This may sound incongruous with the theme of the opera, but there are indeed gnomes in the play, more specifically at the Elysium scene, where Orpheus discovers a perfect paradise, only to find that Eurydice isn’t there. Though I understnd the motivation of this scene, it still feels bizarre, and stands out as one of the few weak directorial choices in an otherwise impressive play.
Overall, this production of Orpheus and Eurydice is not to be missed. It is fast-paced and powerful, with wonderful vocal performances and an innovative concept.