Mad March Hare Theatre Co Eurydice - photo by Marnya RotheEurydice and Orpheus are very much in love and are planning nuptials. They promise each other the world and everything in it, in the way only the children of Gods can. Eurydice’s dead father watches on from the underworld: he writes heartfelt notes and sends them Earthwards, but the living do not speak the language of the dead.

On the wedding day itself the lord of the underworld lures Eurydice back to his flat with the promise of a note from her father. She falls to her death, and joins her progenitor, who rekindles her earthly memories.

What follows is the familiar myth of Orpheus (son of Apollo and legendary musician) and Eurydice (the oak nymph). Only this time Eurydice becomes the central focus, and she is torn between returning to Orpheus or remaining with her father in the underworld.

Ebony Vagulans is wonderful as Eurydice. The love scenes between her and Lincoln Vickery as Orpheus are a joy to witness. There is an unaffected quality to Vagulans’ energised performance, which serves the character’s journey from hopeful joie de vivre to the final point of her arc. Vickery is charming as Orpheus, and when he does sing it’s really a triumphant moment that ends too soon.

For a play which is not overly long, a couple of interludes featuring one of most mythologised musical figures of all time, a man who out-sang the sirens, might have been just the thing. Jamie Oxenbould’s performance as the father is heartfelt, and heightens our consideration of playwright Sarah Ruhl’s line that weddings are really for fathers and daughters. Nicholas Papademetriou is hysterical as the lord of the underworld. He’s unsettling and entertaining: just what you’d expect in the realm of Hades.

There are talking stones (Alex Malone, Megan Wilding, Ariadne Sgouros) in the underworld, who are very animated and kept me guessing throughout. Often the best symbols in theatre, the most enduring, are those that defy a single interpretation; I’m thinking particularly of Beckett, in whose direction there may be more than a few nods in this production.

The lighting here is dialed up to 11, doing much of the heavy lifting. We are transported from the euphoric heights of an Olympian wedding to the frigid wasteland of the underworld with the change of lighting state. The costuming is playful and rewards close inspection: this production features an eclectic mix, with gestures in the direction of ancient Greece, the circus ringmaster, and perhaps some Weimar cabaret. The talking stones certainly love barking out orders.

This production really succeeds in the early love scenes and the exploration of the father daughter relationship; Eurydice is torn between two loyalties. Ruhl’s play gives Eurydice greater agency than has appeared in earlier incarnations of this myth. Virgil, Ovid, and many others freely manipulated the story lines of established mythologies to suit their ends. It’s wonderful to get a chance to see Ruhl doing just the same, keeping the myths vital, interrogating their subtleties and bringing new possibilities to life.

There is a puppet themed postscript which adds value as pure entertainment, and buttresses the absurdist elements of the preceding. In a universe in which one may be committed to the underworld forever as payment for a backwards glance (the rules of existence that govern our lives are arbitrary, right?), dancing puppets make as much wonderful sense as anything else.

Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Performance: Tuesday 20 November 2018 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 15 December 2018
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Image: Mad March Hare Theatre Co. in association with Red Line Productions presents Eurydice – photo by Marnya Rothe

Review: Oliver Wakelin