Eurydice at the Whitehall Theatre

Jean Anouilh belongs to that group of playwrights (like Frisch and Durrenmat), who were fashionable post-war but who now are recalled as exercises in nostalgia, whose plays are dusted off when a fringe company looks to do something a bit different but doesn t have a new play to hand. Simon Godwin s production has such a pedigree. Originally shown in Battersea last year, someone thought that this would transfer neatly to the West End stage. Lord knows we need something different, but this really is a play that should have stayed dead and buried.

In Anouilh s version of the Greek tragedy, Orpheus is a street musician and Eurydice is an actress. Rather than being bitten by a snake, however, this Eurydice is killed in a road accident and rather than descending to hell to ask for her back, Orpheus is transported to the railway buffet where they first met. Of course, he loses her but, rather than being torn to pieces by wild women (which would have considerably livened up the production), he dies in an unspecified way to be reunited with his lost love.

Anouilh s point is that death is better than a stultifying life. And that the death of the young lovers, before they have slid into a world of bourgeois complacency and an obsession with life s minutiae is something to be celebrated. The world that they escape from is rather simplistically represented by Eurydice s name-dropping mother and Orpheus s father, with his endless conversation of fixed price menus, but they never really become more than caricatures.

That there are worse things than death seems to be the general message, and, by the end of the play, this is a sentiment which the somnolent audience would have totally agreed with.

As the young lovers, Amy Marston s Eurydice and Orlando Seale s Orpheus completely fail to convince us that these are people lost in their own passion. Edward de Souza, as Orpheus s father, tries to rise above the atmosphere of doom and gloom. His performance would be rendered completely over-the-top in normal circumstances, but here it is devoured by an audience rendered torpid by the lugubrious prose.

The real tragedy is that Desmond Barrit, normally a fine comic actor, is completely wasted in the role of the mysterious Monsieur Henri, a sort of cross between an angel and Charon. While it s gratifying to see him in a different sort of role, one can t help feeling that this wasn t the right part for him.

There s nothing intrinsically wrong with reviving plays that have fallen out of fashion, but Eurydice strikes so blatantly a false note that one wonders why the Straydogs company bothered. In fact, the best thing about this production was the musical accompaniment, period chansons played before the start and during the interval. There was more passion in one Piaf song than in two hours of this play - that says it all really.

Maxwell Cooter