A Wonderful Orpheus in Battersea

Little Bulb's Orpheus

When I first came across 'the most haunting love story ever told’ being presented at the Battersea Arts Center by Little Bulb, I sort of smirked.

After all, Orpheus in the Underworld has been around awhile, done by many, done to death by a few. And Little Bulb is a sort of strange name for a theatre group. But maybe that's what hooked me: I like strange much better than predictable.

And predictable is one thing you won’t find in this amazing show; nothing is ever as it seems.

Little Bulb have taken the myth of Orpheus and made it their own. The man who is so gifted he can charm the gods into giving him back his wife, and who loses her again because he doesn’t keep his promise to the gods, what an odd choice for 2013. Or is it?

Orpheus (Dominic Conway) here is Django Reinhardt, an inspired choice, with snazzy, vibrant music by the famous Belgian Gypsy. Eurydice (Eugenie Pastor) is now an Arletty-like presenter/singer (anyone remember the big chanteuse of yonder years?). Yvette Pepin is an officially over-the-top charming/grating middle-aged French lady who magically transforms into a lovely young girl.

The Company skip from vibrant jazzy to sublime music, from music hall French-style to operetta, all done with tremendous skill. The band deserves an extra mention: Clare Baresford, Miriam Gould, Charlie Penn, Tom Penn, Alexander Scott, Shamira Turner. They all perform various roles as well with great aplomb.

Over the top persiflage sits side-by-side in this production with exploring very serious questions about theatre and myth and music making. This is all done in the most entertaining style, with the audience responding with loud laughter and reverend stillness. The musical underpinning is amazingly accomplished, the exquisite countertenor, not a voice you’d expect, wove magic in the fabulous grand hall setting of the Battersea Arts Centre. We laugh with ‘Little Bulb’ and also contemplate sadder things like ‘les feuilles mortes’, the wonderful Jaques Prevert song. But because they don’t want us to get too sad, this song about dying leaves gets a makeover that makes people laugh aloud. This is creative theatre at full flow.

The interval and after show was all part of the performance- great music making, super food offered, even Kir Royal in fin-de-siecle style- a great evening was had by all.