Usually have – as he knew – cold hearts.
It is like a medical condition. Perfection in art
Is given in exchange for such an affliction.
Czeslaw Milosz, Orpheus and Eurydice (2003)
It was halfway through Orpheus and Eurydice when the above quote appeared, and it struck me then, as it still strikes me now, that a more apt overall description of this show could not have been uttered.
Presented by Night Train Productions as part of the Fremantle Festival, Orpheus and Eurydice is a beautiful and ethereal exploration of the iconic Greek myth that unfortunately lacks enough weight and gravitas to have any real emotional impact.
According to the myth, Orpheus was a poet and musician, whose wife Eurydice was killed by a snake on their wedding day. Distraught, Orpheus travelled into the Underworld, where he used music to charm the king and queen into letting him have his wife back. They made one condition; that he walked in front of Eurydice on their journey home, and not turn around. Orpheus did so for the most part, but near the end, unable to resist, he glanced back at his wife, only to see her disappear forever. Upon his return to the surface, Orpheus mourned for years, until he was eventually killed by the Bacchae, crazed female worshippers of the wine god Dionysus.
This story has inspired artists for millennia, spawning artworks, opera and poetry, and it is from this poetry that Night Train Productions have shaped their exploration. Performer Humphrey Bower takes the role of Narrator/Orpheus, utilising the works of Ovid, Virgil, Rainer Maria Rilke and Czeslaw Milosz in his retelling of the myth. He is supported by dancer Danielle Micich as Eurydice and Jess Bower on violin, lyre and vocals.
The company created a minimalist or bare-bones approach to their production, which allowed focus to remain on the story. This was supported by Joe Mercurio’s strong lighting design, and their excellent use of the architecture in Victoria Hall. Working in promenade, they exploited every inch of length and height in the space to recreate Orpheus’ decent in the Underworld; this included Micich climbing a ladder to dance upon a balcony. All of them were highly effective story-tellers, but Jess Bower stole it for me with her amazing vocals and musicianship. She was haunting.
However, the problem I had with Orpheus and Eurydice was that through the music, dance and poetry, the end result was so heightened and beautiful, that it kind of washed over me like elevator music, and left me feeling empty.
One of my primary issues was that you didn’t get any sense of the relationship between Orpheus and Eurydice that existed prior to her death; they barely touched or interacted onstage as a couple beyond her ghost-like visage, and Micich’s re-emergence as a Bacchae. I would’ve liked to have seen them in a ‘before’ scenario to get a sense of the love that was destroyed by her death. Without knowing what Orpheus had lost, how could I believe the lengths he went to in order to reclaim her.
I also found it very hard to connect to the character of Orpheus overall. As the ‘hero’ in our journey, and thus grounding point for the audience, it was important for us to sympathise with him. However, the heightened language made Bower seem more of the omniscient narrator than anything else. I wanted him to vocalise beyond the poetry, to own his dialogue, to hum, sing, scream, anything to make me connect; to make me feel like he was actively part of the story, rather than the vehicle for its recitation.
Essentially, it felt like Orpheus and Eurydice existed on a dream-like plain, inaccessible to the humans sitting in the audience. It was something you observed rather than being an emotional participant. Whilst it was certainly beautiful and lyrical, I don’t believe the poet Milosz; perfection should not come at the cost of a beating heart.
Night Train Productions presents
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Venue: Victoria Hall | 179 High Street Fremantle
Dates: Fri 5 & Sat 6 Nov, 2010 @ 8pm
Tickets: $20, $15 concession
Bookings: www.deckchairtheatre.com.au | 08 9430 4771