You probably know the nuts and bolts of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
If so, you know that Orpheus was the legendary poet and musician who could charm the birds from the trees and make rocks dance. He even outshone the Sirens when he sailed with the Argonauts. Quite a resumé.
But what do we know of Eurydice? Comparatively little. Some sources have her as an “oak nymph”, which is a tad vague. Others describe her as a “daughter of Apollo”.
American playwright Sarah Ruhl addresses this traditional dearth of agency or lack of personality, in this eccentrically touching play about love, loss and forgetting.
Eurydice (played by Ebony Vagulans) is at her own wedding reception when she meets a mysterious figure bearing a letter from her father.
Nothing unusual in that, you might think. It’s her big day after all.
But Eurydice’s father is dead.
Unbeknown to his daughter, he’s been watching her life from the Underworld. Having retained the ability to read and write, he pens letters to Eurydice every day, even though he knows that messages from Hades are untranslatable in the world of the living.
Captured by the promise of a reunion, Eurydice escapes her own party and jumps into an elevator.
After a creepy encounter with the Lord of the Underworld in his apartment, the next stop is Hades itself, but not before she’s rinsed of her memories.
When the doors open on the Underworld, Eurydice is a blank slate. She’s forgotten Orpheus. She’s forgotten she was ever in love. She’s forgotten what love is. She doesn’t recognise her father, either. She thinks he’s some kind of hotel bellhop.
But dad won’t let daughter go so easily. With infinite patience, word by word, story by story, he helps Eurydice rebuild her memories and their relationship – which leaves Eurydice with an unbearable dilemma when Orpheus eventually descends.
Ruhl’s quirky vision of the Underworld – think Lewis Carroll – is cleverly realised in this highly crafted production by indie company Mad March Hare. Performed on an imposing wooden stage designed by Isabel Hudson, illuminated by Ben Brockman and directed by Claudia Barrie, the necessary balance between humour and poignancy is struck early and maintained throughout.
Vagulans combines guilelessness with an impression of physical strength in the title role. Jamie Oxenbould is a delightful Dad, sparkly eyed for all his deadness and faintly comic in three-piece suit and bare feet.
Lincoln Vickery’s Orpheus is exactly the kind of troubadour a lot of fathers would prefer their daughters didn’t marry, and Megan Wilding, Ariadne Sgouros and Alex Malone are excellent as The Stones, carnivalesque figures who pop up from stage floor traps to wryly comment on proceedings. Nicholas Papademetriou is pure pantomime as the ancient-infant King of the Underworld.
One reservation: Eurydice has the capacity to leave you feeling gently moved but those feelings are short-lived. The decision to tack on a dancing puppet routine performed by the Stones, might have struck as a cute value-add, but it lacks the kind of technical finesse needed to pull it off effectively and it only serves to interfere with the mood so painstakingly generated in the preceding 75 minutes.