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  • Writer's pictureEmilia Hargreaves

English National Opera; Orpheus and Eurydice Review

Hello, and welcome back to another one of my Budget Theatre Reviews. You will soon find out that, as always, I did not purchase a programme, and nor did I take the time to read a synopsis. Which in hindsight, I definitely should have done, because I didn't have a clue what was going on half the time.

Now, before I begin, I should clarify, this isn’t really a ‘review’. It is more of a summary of my thoughts. A typed up, slightly more formal version of the notes that I made throughout the show.

Walking into the theatre is always a joyous feeling for me. It would be nice if I was the one on the stage, but you know, this is the next best. Finally, the new safety curtain was up, and I, for one, LOVE IT. It is so much more interesting to look at and it brings a whole new dimension to the auditorium. It uses a subtle range of bright colours that are easy on the eyes, which, with the raging headache that I had turned up with, made the spectacle of a production slightly more bearable.

The first thing I made note of, was how many empty seats there were. Which made me sad. Because the ENO is not where you expect to see empty seats. But as the performance unfolded, I began to understand why. When the curtain went up, we were met by another damp and dark looking set with a luminous yellow box centre stage. Eurydice, who looked like she was wrapped up in a number of bedsheets is offered what I think was supposed to be a bunch of flowers made out of plastic (An interesting factor, considering the Extinction Rebellion group that stormed passed us on our way into London), and then she is injected with something? One of the dancers then brings out an IV drip, which looks like its filled with piss, and wraps it around her before she falls to the floor. Already, I am baffled. What is going on?

I was intrigued by the costuming of the dancers, who, all in patchwork, looked like they were a part of Kanye West’s latest collection. Actually, I thought the design ideas here were quite cool. Not one person was wearing the same thing. Each costume was unique, so there was always something new to look at.

The water visuals being projected at the back of the stage, combined with the dreamy quality of the chorus were stunning, except it made me want to go to sleep. It was lovely, and surprisingly calmed my headache for a moment or so. I was then shocked when we met Orpheus, who, please do correct me if I am wrong here, was wearing Adidas leggings!? And as the contemporary ballet routines began, I was fairly impressed. It looked lovely, but the whole way through, I desperately wanted to know: Are they trying to stagger the routine or are they supposed to be in time with each other? Because it really was not clear.

It was charming to watch, but the majority of it, I felt, wasn’t really justified. I understood the whole squirming around in hell, and the pain and the convulsions of the bodies in the underworld. But after that, I just felt like they were dancing for the sake of it. To fill the music.

The score was enchanting. I was a big fan of the frequent woodwind interjections, that punctuated each musical phrase, but I thought that a lot of the arias sounded like church hymns, which often go on for too long.

In comparison to 'Orpheus in the Underworld', excuse the pun, but they are worlds apart. Watching the Underworld, the audience was transported. The energy and flamboyance of the piece immediately gripped us all and we are intertwined in this colourful and actually heartwarming story. Whereas here, and I am aware that this is my own fault; but I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on. I am all for opera, and as much as I love my modern interpretations, a simple singer on a stage can often be effective. But after about five solid minutes of a completely empty stage bar a single solo singer, I was practically gagging for the chorus to come out and spice things up a little. Even a dancer at this point would help.

When we met 'Love', I was excited by her dress. Another cutesy patchwork piece that I would call 'Fifty Shades of Pencil Grey'. And although her voice was stunning, I was still expecting more. Waiting for something to grab me and make me not think that now would be an appropriate time to just rest my eyelids. The later use of shadows was sweet, but again, I thought more could have been done. When you're on such a huge stage, with all the right technical equipment to make something incredible, why not take advantage of it? With all the metaphorical dancey-dancey stuff, I would have thought that there could have been some more shapes explored though the use of shadows. But maybe that's just me?

It was at this point that I began to feel some weight pushing down on my shoulder. The man next to me was sleeping. Cool. Okay. That's nice. I was thinking of joining him but instead, I put my head down and made some more notes.

Orpheus kept pacing up and down the stage so furiously that I began to feel a little uneasy, but, finally, something grabbed me. Out of the blue my attention was caught. A half naked man on the stage. Thank the holy opera lords, my prayers have been answered. Something nice to look at. This man moved like he didn't have any bones in his body and at more than one point I could actually hear his joints click. I was engaged. But then the lights came on. For a scene change. Imagine, the lights come up, but not the full way up and people start to talk, but no one leaves like it's the interval. Excuse me! Don't tease my bladder like that! I need a wee. And when the curtain comes up again, they've only bloody moved one thing. Seriously? Was that really necessary?

Funny thing is, people actually left here. I'm guessing they'd just had enough. But they made a right fuss as they left, getting everyone in the front row to stand up to let them pass. Rudeness on a whole new level.

Honestly, when the screen projections at the back first began, I thought 'Hmm, Cool!', and then my headache turned into a migraine and I just wanted to cry. What is the point of using strobe lighting to such an extreme level that we cannot even see the dance routines that I am hoping were actually choreographed? I admired the clown like, joker costumes that the dancers were wearing, but I barely got to see them because of the lighting. Not to be rude, but was there a child playing with the lighting desk? Or were we just trying out some cool new techniques? But when the backdrop turned a gothic bloody red, I was finally presented with some 'normal' images of the idea of hell.

I spent the majority of this performance thinking about how much of a disservice it is not to bring out the ENO chorus. When I pay for an ENO ticket, I am paying for an ENO show. And an ENO show is not an ENO show without the ENO chorus. Okay?

The dancers abstract neon costumes are great, but I personally, think I would be more entertained by a large group of middle-aged, average sized men and women dancing than some skinny dance grads. Suddenly we are then submerged into blue UV lights and I'm wondering why I am now watching Avatar as my headache continues. I am relieved as we enter the interval as I can finally take another ibuprofen. It is desperately needed at this point.

The first dancer to enter the stage after the interval looks like she is leaving the gym with a sequinned sweaty towel over her shoulder, which I thought was funny, and as the rest of the dancers emerge and turn round, we see that they all have little patchwork love hearts sewn onto their booties. Cute! Okay, I approve. The people sat behind me kept talking, so I shot them an incredibly theatrical death glare and they eventually got the message: Shut up.

I found the partner work appealing to watch, however felt that all the dance throughout looked like rehearsed improvisation rather than any set choreography. The only section that looked properly rehearsed was the all female section, which despite being very short, was breathtaking, and I took from it, the simple message that women rely on each other and must support each other.

More dreamy melodies flowed from offstage and I am thinking 'Where are you chorus?', 'I can hear you, but I can't see you!' Stop teasing me like this!

Regardless of the minimal staging, I thought that the final duet between Orpheus and Eurydice was captivating. And I must point out that, having said everything I have said, I am so incredibly proud to have witnessed such a fantastically strong all female cast. This is what we've been waiting for. Strong female leads are the way forward in this world. And I adored the possibility of the romance being a lesbian relationship. Heightening the sense of it being a 'forbidden love'. The contrast in the colour of the costumes, Black versus White, was so poignant here. Foreshadowing Life versus Death, and once Eurydice passes, a whirr of 'oh's' were heard around the auditorium.

I felt that Orpheus rolling around with the dead body was a little odd, but I guess everyone deals with grief differently. Then she somehow comes back to life again. I'm totally baffled but I'm going along with it. I suppose the message is that love makes you do crazy things. As always, the orchestra were fantastic and as the weird yellow box thing returns to the stage, the cyclical narrative is completed.

Orpheus and Eurydice ends as it starts and boy am I glad I've been making notes because otherwise I would have been really damn bored.

All in all, it was decent. Not really for me if I'm totally honest.

If got the opportunity to see again, I won't lie, I probably would not.

I would give a solid 2, scraping at a 3 if I'm considering the nice dancey bits and that women are amazing and do not need a male counterpart to lead them.

The show could be appealing to anyone, but definitely not an epileptic.

Take an ibuprofen before hand to be safe.

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