There’s a great opening to Sarah Ruhl’s re-imagining of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice: the two lovers, played by Osi Okerafor and Ony Uhiara, bound on to the stage in swimwear. Orpheus gives his girl the earth, the sky and the sea, and a piece of string as a wedding band.
The following 90 minutes are whimsical and irritating almost beyond endurance. The American playwright Ruhl, who hails from Chicago and has recently written a piece in New York about a sex toy – In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) – hitches a hit-and-myth lift but is really writing another play altogether, one about a father and daughter.
Eurydice’s dead father cannot remember how to read or write, but gets a message through about what matters in life. Cue dull guff and platitudes. Then we get the second (and last) big surprise of Bijan Sheibani’s production: water fountains sprout through the steel cage floor and we’re thrown into the middle of the wedding party.
At this party, where the guests break out into a jitterbug version of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (why?), Eurydice is seduced by a Nasty Interesting Man (Rhys Rusbatch), spies her own party from the top of his tower block, and falls to her death. In the underworld, her father (Geff Francis) weaves a house of twine among the delicate scaffolding.
I was almost screaming (silently, of course) at this point. It gets worse. Three lumpy actors play the dead stones, the same stones who were moved to tears by the music of Orpheus; and they are, but only to discreet little sobs. If it weren’t so nebulous and pretentious, I now thought, this would be better as a kids’ play at the Polka.
Sheibani’s production, as in his Polish massacre play, Our Class, at the National, is fitted out with twee little strips of neon lighting, and there is lots of water, always the last refuge of the parched and arid-theatre maker. Orpheus looks back because Eurydice calls him. But she dies again anyway. So does the play.