If you are savvy enough to locate the impossibly discreet Old Vic Tunnels prior to the commencement of an evening performance of Orpheus and Eurydice by the National Youth Theatre – I will offer you my sincerest congratulations! It may not immediately seem that the universe has adequately rewarded your keen sense of direction; what with a greeting ambiance best described as soggy and the bizarre sensation that your pores are filling up with muck, however these worldly worries shall soon leave you entirely.
Oddly enough, the venue under Waterloo station seems to double-up as both the most infuriating and the most marvellous aspect of the production. It is the first full-length play of its kind to be performed in the Tunnels and director James Dacre takes admirable advantage of the space. Dark, dank, moist, and grim, the play begins en promenade, and leads the audience into writer Molly Davies’s new medically infused myth: to the eerily hospitalized Orpheus and Eurydice and then into their underworld, brimming with intimidating guard-like figures and other terribly desperate types, who stare at and hover close to the audience as they finally reach their seats.
…the committed ensemble of young actors are the heart of the show.
Davies’s new spin on the myth is rather close to what I would have imagined a modern interpretation in this awesome setting to be like. This is not to say that Davies’s script is predictable, on the contrary, she flips the fate of her two main characters. Not forgetting the myth’s classic themes of love and sacrifice, the new work uses a risky liver transplant as Orpheus and Eurydice’s medium of descent into the underworld, creating a poignant symbol of the infected body throughout.
It is the committed ensemble of young actors who are the heart of the show. Though sometimes slightly out-of-sync with one another the talent displayed is refreshing and undeniable. My opinion was further validated post-performance upon being informed that the band was actually made up of members from the ensemble, an aspect of the performance which was disappointingly hidden from view. Regardless, the cast is solid. Slinky Winfield and Phoebe Haines are the perfect modern, urbanised versions of Orpheus and Eurydice, while the smaller speaking parts are also worthy of note. Jamie Moore as The Guide, for example, gives a distinct and convincing character performance as well as a memorably powerful baritone solo.
The audience is almost ambushed by these tunes…
The musical score, created by James Johnston with help from his former band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, pushes the action along like an unpredictable yet enjoyable current. The audience is almost ambushed by these tunes which constantly switch between the dizzyingly frantic and the hauntingly fragile.
With a running time of just over an hour, the National Youth Theatre’s Orpheus and Eurydice is an ambitious, though seemingly rushed, venture that is stylistically worthwhile. Where the writing falters the overall experience in the Tunnels and dedicated cast prove to be the production’s saving grace. I say see it – if you can find it, that is.
The production ran until 17 September.
Images courtesy of The Old Vic Tunnels