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Orpheus Down Under

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Unexpected Opera at the Playhouse, Norwich

It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t quite come off. Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) is one of the most popular of Offenbach’s operettas on this side of the Channel and its political satire can be edgier even today than that of the Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre. Tim Riley and Lynn Binstock have adapted the 1858 original for a cast of twelve and a stage band of four with Stephen Hose as director and keyboard player.

We open in Kent, sometime in the slightly flower-power, somewhat weed-happy 1970s then relocate to Bondi Beach, hence the new title. The young cast is led by Myvanwy Bentall as Eunice, aka Eurydice and she throws off the bravura passages in the part with considerable skill as well as coping effectively with the extended dialogue. Her abductor Pluto is the full-voiced Joseph Morgan, originally disguised as a guitar-wielding folk singer called Arty, and her reluctantly pursuing husband draws an amusing characterisation from Rónan Busfield – he manages to play his violin both badly and well, which is quite an achievement.

If the dialogue drags at time (directorial scissors should have been employed, especially with Bacchus Tony Harris's ’ community-singing interlude) at least you can hear it. The wit of some of the lyrics all too often was swallowed by indistinct pronunciation, which spoiled Angharad Lewis’ otherwise neat doubling of Mrs Whitewash (the Public Opinion character) and Juno. Sylvie Gallant’s Sloane Ranger of a Diana, poured into the tightest of jodhpurs and shiniest of riding boots, was a noticeable exception to this mumbling tendency.

The erstwhile king of the Boeticians is here a failed snooker champion who met an extremely uncomfortable demise through his own cue. James Scarlett does well by his second-act aria while Jezz James makes Mercury – allowed his solo number from the 1874 revision – into a pot-smoking, Rastafarian-capped go-between. As the gods train (very reluctantly) for the Olympics, I would have liked a slightly more forceful Jupiter than Matthew Quirk provides.

- Anne Morley-Priestman


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