by Sarah Ruhl.
Young Vic Theatre (The Maria) 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 5 June 2010.
Mon-Sat 7:45pm Mat Sat & 19 May, 2 June 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Carole Woddis 5 May.
Too much lightness sets the wrong tone.
Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the powerful Orpheus/Eurydice myth of love, loss, and possible redemption comes lauded from its run in New York where it was described as, ”the most moving exploration of the theme of loss that the American theatre has produced”. Something has gone adrift however in this British premiere production, presented by ATC, The Drum Theatre Plymouth and the Young Vic and directed by ATC’s artistic director and rising star, Bijan Sheibani.
Sheibani’s production of Tarell Alvin McCraney The Brothers Size was a sell-out at the Young Vic. He was fêted for his Royal Court direction of Bola Agbaje’s Gone too Far and for Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek, at the Cottesloe.
So what has gone wrong here? Modernised by Ruhl to an Afro-American southern setting, her Orpheus and Eurydice appear initially as a young couple, complete with swimming goggles, who look as if they are off for a quick dip at the seaside.
Lacking gravitas, Beijani opts for a lightly comic touch of Ruhl’s abstract approach that also sometimes lurches dangerously towards coy sentimentality. Eurydice’s time in the underworld is divided between a watery world suggested by fountains and jets of water and a lift represented by overhead day-glow. Within that world, she encounters her dead father and three decidedly beady Stones, custodians of the underworld who warn her that sadness is not allowed, nor speech as understood by the living.
Loss is endemic in the piece yet the sense and weight of it is strangely muted. Instead, a light jokiness prevails. The Lord of the Underworld who lures Eurydice away from Orpheus is supplied by a young man who later returns in a loud check suit riding a bicycle, rather like a bustling Mr Toad.
Innocence, bewilderment and confusion are all well served by Ony Uhiara as Eurydice (she also shone in In the Red and Brown Water at the Young Vic in 2008). Yet Ruhl’s dialogue and Beijani’s production stubbornly refuse to take flight.
For loss and redemption, countrywoman Lyn Nottage’s Ruined, currently at the Almeida, provides the emotional voltage and example sadly missing here.
Eurydice: Ony Uhiara.
Eurydice’s father: Geff Francis.
Orpheus: Osi Okerafor.
Big Stone: Marsha Henry.
Little Stone: Becci Gemmell.
Loud Stone: Ben Addis.
Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld: Rhys Rusbatch.
Director: Bijan Sheibani.
Design: Patrick Burnier.
Lighting: Mike Gunning.
Sound/Music: Manuel Pinheiro.
Music advisor: Elspeth Brooke.
Choreographer: Aline David.
Dialect coach: Michael Kennen.
Assistant director: Matthew Evans.