Director Rachel Chavkin and singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell transform the story of Orpheus and Eurydice into a vibrant two-and-half-hour folk opera. Hadestown comes to the National Theatre’s Olivier stage after successful workshops New York and Canada and ahead of a 2019 Broadway run.
Based on Anaïs Mitchell's 2010 concept album of the same name, Hadestown is a heady mixture of jazz, folk, blues and swing. It relocates the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to post-apocalyptic Depression-era America.
There are obvious parallels with Hamilton: it gives new form to an old story; the whole narrative plays out in songs and verse with no dialogue; and we see flashes of contemporary relevance in the ancient tale. But instead of the bravura word play and rap-battles, Hadestown hooks you with the irresistibly catchy songs.
Reeve Carney as Orpheus. Photo by Helen Maybanks
Rather than Mount Olympus, the tragedy is set in New Orleans on a stage full of tables and chairs, framed by a live jazz band. Smoke, swinging lights and sinking platforms combine to gradually conjure the inner circles of hell.
A suave, silver-suited Hermes (Andre De Shields) is MC at a tatty blues club. The three shimmering fates are his backing singers. The chorus are a ragtag bunch of punters. Extreme weather conditions and scant opportunities are as much a reflection of global warming as an echo of the myth of the goddess Persephone splitting the year between earth and the underworld. Yet, as shown in a rousing chorus number ‘Livin’ it up on Top’, there is much joy to be found in this imperfect earth.
Hermes introduces us to Eurydice, a young girl who is always hungry. Bent over to shelter from relentless wind in an oversized coat Eva Noblezada is a diminutive figure, but her voice fills the theatre as she sings of Eurydice’s will to survive.
Instead of the passive victim of the myth, this Eurydice is in charge of her own fate – but destitution and desperation drive her to sign her life away.
Reeve Carney’s Orpheus is an idealistic songwriter with the skinny jeans, spiked dark hair and eyes-closed-singing of an American Idol winner. His starry-eyed quest to write one great song makes for saccharin viewing, which is thankfully diluted by the scrappy, slightly sleazy tone of the rest of the show.
Patrick Page as Hades and Amber Gray as Persephone. Photo by Helen Maybanks
In the underworld of Hadestown, we find a pastiche of industrialisation, with bright lights, aggressive central heating and never-ending work. Hades (played with prowling prowess and an almost supernaturally deep voice by Patrick Page) leads his workers, the denizens of hell, on a quest to build a wall. ‘The enemy is poverty/ And the wall keeps out the enemy/ And we build the wall to keep us free’ they chant in an eerie embodiment of Trumpian border control slogans.
But when Orpheus ventures into the underworld to save his beloved, armed with nothing but a melody, the political echoes fade into a broader reflection of art versus industry. The plot doesn't quite emerge fully formed from the music, but with songs this good it hardly matters.
|What||Hadestown, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
02 Nov 18 – 26 Jan 19, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £65|
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|