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A CurtainUp London London Review

A wedding is for daughters and fathers. The mothers all dress up, trying to look like young women. But a wedding is for a father and a daughter. They stop being married to each other on that day. — Eurydice
Ony Uhiara as Eurydice
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice has the kind of imagery that leaps off the page into your head and stays there. Her reworking of the Orpheus and the Eurydice myth has an interesting addition, that of Eurydice's father (Geff Francis) whose pull lays the reason for Eurydice to leave her wedding party and which eventually leads to her fall down a stairwell into the Underworld. This father-daughter relationship adds to the tale of love, isolation and longing, and finally forgetfulness as Eurydice meets her dead father in the Underworld. She is lured away by the promise of a letter from her father by a Nasty Interesting Man (Rhys Rusbatch) who turns out to be the Lord of the Underworld.

Bijan Sheibani is one of the most exciting directors of physical theatre we have in the UK and it is with heightened anticipation that we view his productions. But somehow there seems to me to have been a mismatch here. Ruhl's text fails to reach its full poetic potential in the round staging in the Maria Studio at the Young Vic. It isn't because of the nuanced performance from Ony Uhiara as the bookish Eurydice, nor Osi Okerafor's beautiful singing voice as Orpheus of which we hear too little. The problem seems to be with the Three Stones whose malevolent and predatory, choric pacing around denies the nothingness that is meant to be the state of the stones, a reference to the effect of Orpheus' music in the Keats' poem, "In sorrow I sing a sad song/That makes stones weep."

The forgetfulness that is experienced as they travel through the river Styx means that Eurydice does not know where she is when she arrives in the Underworld. So we have a curious surreal experience as she thinks she is staying in an hotel and asks for her room, treating her father as the hotel porter. Her father, who kept his memory by holding his breath when he was dipped in the river, takes some string and fashions her a room. The production uses water and the imagery of water to good effect: sometimes bubbling up from the floor, sometimes raining down in the elevator, or at the wedding riding up like those spontaneous fountains that take passers-by unawares. The lighting is effective too, those square frames of liquid light used above the playing area.

This Eurydice is a dreamlike production with quirky, oddball moments of humour as when the Lord of the Underworld rides in on his tricycle wearing the loudest of striped suits. There are unforgettable visual images too: the strobe lit wedding dance with a high kicking jitterbug dance, the strobe being used to disguise the change to Eurydice's clothes, out of her wedding dress. I found the 1950s beach scene, the first where Orpheus and Eurydice declare undying love, stylised and more like a television advertisement dreamt up by Mad Men than the prelude to a Greek myth. The more prosaic images contrast with the beauty of the speech. We hear that Orpheus can hold twelve melodies at once and that he is going to make each strand of Eurydice's hair into an instrument. I was also curious to know why American accents were chosen for the English speaking cast.

I definitely would like to see more of Sarah Ruhl's writing although it undoubtedly will challenge directors. For more details of the play and a review of its production at New York's Second stage, go here.

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Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Starring: Ony Uhiara, Geff Francis, Osi Okerafor
With: Marsha Henry, Becci Gemmell, Ben Addis, Rhys Rusbatch
Design: Patrick Burnier
Lighting: Mike Gunning
Music and Sound: Manuel Pinheiro
Choreographer: Aline David
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7922 2922
Booking to 5th June 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 5th May 2010 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1 8LZ (Rail/Tube: Waterloo or Southwark)

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