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Eurydice puts modern twist on a Greek myth

Theatre

The story of Orpheus and the Underworld is a staple of Greek mythology.  Orpheus goes down to see Hades and Persephone and sings so sweetly that they have pity on him and return his recently deceased wife, Eurydice, to him.

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This 2003 play by American writer Sarah Ruhl has been cleverly re-written to have the female character as the protagonist and the mistake that separates the two lovers at the end is, interestingly, hers.

A new character, Eurydice’s father, has been added to emphasise ‘themes of male vulnerability, memory, loss, and Eurydice’s ultimate dilemma of choice – which she must overcome”.

Adelaide-based Foul Play Theatre’s production is presented in an open warehouse with vertical iron roof supports which can act as corridors and compartments. So the playing area is spacious and looks draughty and a bit hellish, but isn’t.

Director Yasmin Gurreeboo uses the vast space effectively, especially the corridor of poles that brings Orpheus into and out of the Underworld.

There are clumps of sandhill grass around as the still-living characters of Orpheus and Eurydice get together at the start in ’50s beach outfits. The stark and spare grass is somehow appropriate, as the scene becomes the Underworld after Eurydice meets “a man with big stupid hands like potatoes” on her wedding night.

We meet him again before too long as the Lord of the Underworld (never called Hades in this play) and the link is made later to these hands as the dead are said to be “like potatoes in the dirt” – it’s interesting imagery both times.

Lines of nifty script abound. Even Orpheus’s series of monologues as he approaches the underworld are skillfully varied. There is a Chorus of Stones, three characters who are the most original stones you will see on stage, flapping about in flippers and diving masks; they seem to be like police, meant to be enforcing the rules against speaking. The audience is like a second chorus, of shades, who really are not speaking – more like potatoes, perhaps.

The cast is well-organised and performs the 75-minute show near faultlessly, so you believe you are really there, down below – almost.

Annabel Matheson, as Eurydice, conveys a charm which is underscored by indecisiveness – her character is always led, never quite in control, always interesting, maybe a touch brittle.

Patrick Frost as The Father plays it with deliberate understatement. He teaches his daughter the subversive arts of speech and memory which make her recognition of Orpheus possible; he renders pathos into the performance which balances the vibrancy of The Stones and extends some of those themes about what, I guess, makes us human. His building of a room of ropes for his daughter is a really charming highlight.

Antoine Jelk as Orpheus and Eddie Morrison as The Lord do their jobs well, and the three stones provide enormous impact.

I was left with the conclusion that it was Eurydice’s act of breaking discipline during her return with Orpheus, not the fact that he turned around to look at her, which brought about the failure of their return to earth. It was linked to her impulsive personality. Or was it really her indecision? In her bewildered character, was there a lack of total commitment to Orpheus? Was the impulse to remain with her father just as strong? Would we all change our apparent fate if we had that kind of chance?

By the way, anyone who thinks it is not right to muck around with a Greek myth should not worry too much. The Greeks did it all the time; there were various versions of the Orpheus story – a different tale in every town, really. So no worries about adding another one. And this is a worthy modern take, very well played by Foul Play Theatre.

Foul Play Theatre is presenting Eurydice at Plant 1 in Bowden until November 7.

 

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