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The Orpheus Complex
Pleasance Theatre, London

Ursula Strauss
posted 20 April 2005

Theatre de l'Ange Fou are described as followers of 'the father of modern mime', Etienne Ducroux. However, The Orpheus Complex is not so much a mime as dance with occasional soliloquising and song - a kind of dramatised physical theatre. The piece illustrates the struggle with the desires for life and death, upsetting conventional formulations of this relationship.

The piece begins with Orpheus (Kentaro Suyama), half-crazed and taking refuge in the bottle. This behaviour draws to him the Angel of Death (Corrine Soum). She captures his attention and he makes as if to follow her. Opposing her is Doctor Ahriman, head of what appears to be an asylum, or, as it is described in the programme, a 'dysfunctional family'. Inmates mutter repetitively that they have 'seen the future'; or they are obsessed by the past, as is the Nostalgic Fury, engagingly played by Arianne D'Angio. They parade a range of human conditions. The Doctor proposes to cure Orpheus by application of the 'Orpheus myth'. He quickly casts his maniacs into roles of Hades, Charon and Eurydice.

Doctor Ahriman tries to attract Orpheus's attention to Eurydice but it is obvious Orpheus is still equally dazzled by the Angel of Death. When Eurydice dies and he descends into Hell to follow her, it appears to be as much because of his death wish as any loving bond. Theatre de l'Ange Fou cleverly evoke a protracted staircase descent into Hell with just a revolving door, a projected screen showing fiery clouds, and crawling, squirming figures that conjure up souls in torment. Once actually in Hell, the white-winged figures evoke Angels rather than the traditional damned, turning expectations created by the Dante-like descent on their head. A criticism would be that the action that takes place whilst actually in Hell is less effective than the descent and also rather curtailed. The play becomes more obscure as Orpheus is tried, then released, saving Eurydice. But back in the madhouse his defiance again results in her loss and finally his own.

Another problem for me was that Orpheus is so in love with Death that he seems to have no interest in Eurydice, so there is no real sense of a conflict or struggle with opposing desires. However, one suspects that the important thing about this play is really the wonderfully composite moving images created on stage, lit like Gericault's Raft of the Medusa (highly creative lighting by Matthew Britton) and the fantastical costumes, rather than the plotline. The piece is reminiscent of the eccentric, somewhat disconnected French fantasy of Jeunet and Caro's film The City of Lost of Children. At its least effective the swirling motion occasionally becomes a little repetitive, not to say soporific; at its most effective it creates a striking and idiosyncratic vision.

The overcoming of physical limitations that is seen in traditional mime is most called up by Kentaro Suyama as Orpheus. He appears almost weightless, with every movement graceful and serving to further articulate the drama. Max (Jorge Bettencourt) performs a more humorous kind of mime which hints at the manifold skills of this group.

Till 3 May 2005


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