Greek myth collides with contemporary meditation in Sarah Ruhl’s recondite rendering of the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Ruhl’s depiction realigns the focus from music lover Orpheus (Osi Okerafor) and his efforts to bring his beloved back from the underworld to Eurydice (Ony Uhiara) and her journey. We follow her into the underworld and through the river Lethe, forgetting her previous life and being reunited with her deceased father (Geff Francis) whom she mistakes for a porter. Eurydice’s father has the gift and curse of remembering life and lovingly builds his daughter a room made of only twine, in which he helps her recall all her forgotten memories.
Ruhl’s poetic, non-linear narrative works with this piece, giving her free range to explore the ebb and flow of language and play with it, beautifully depicted by the three Stones (Marsha Henry, Becci Gemmell, Ben Addis) who speak the language of the dead and comment on life in the underworld with refreshing humour and harshness as they aim to pull everyone into oblivion.
Ruhl's delightful and touching deliberation on memory and loss explores the theory that we can keep love alive in our minds or choose to let it slip away, and while there is a meaty morsel to chew on, the realisation of the work is not fully successful in Bijan Sheibani’s production.
The dark core and playful dream-like quality to Ruhl’s words are not matched physically or visually, leading to a jarring sensation that stops you from emotionally connecting with the tragedy that develops in front of your eyes.
The minimalist design (Patrick Burnier) of dark wire grates and retractable plastic cubes give the piece a sci-fi feeling as opposed to the dubbed Alice in Wonderland quality, while the blackness continues through the lighting (Mike Gunning) using vast shadows to add to the solemnity of the piece.
The subject matter and setting of the play gives endless scope for edginess and quirky dramatic jolts which never come, with a production that is often stilted and drifts along in places where it feels like it is beginning to drag.
The cast help ensure the audience stay with them, with the central Ony Uhiara who races through emotions from child-like wonderment to beseeched fury as we follow every nuance of her journey. This is matched by Geff Francis who provides rich tones of warmth with his selfless devotion, however his poignant breakdown as he realises he is perpetually grieving by refusing to forget his former life is marred by the introduction of a water tank filling up underneath his feet, distracting from the emotion conveyed.
This is a production that has much potential lying stagnant, failing to effectively explore Ruhl’s simple story about love, death and relationships. Many who leave the theatre will probably mostly empathise with the Stones, who feel nothing at all.
Until Sat 20 Mar
© Lindsay Corr, March 2010