Sunday 28 April 2013

Gleeful, distilled creativity

Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre, London

The Battersea Arts Centre doesn’t half like a Greek myth. I recently saw Paper Cinema’s brilliant version of The Odyssey here and now Little Bulb’s Orpheus. The grandeur of these Greek tales matches up nicely with the vast and creeky BAC. These stories, much like the BAC, also inspire exceptional playfulness in performers. The huge scope of both the Greek myths and the BAC presents the artist with an awful lot of space to wriggle around in and really get creative.

The Grand Hall could not be better suited to this show. There’s an organ, for a start. There is also a massive red velvet curtain (and what a lot of dignified swooshing goes on!), ceilings that climb up forever and a general aura of nostalgic decay. It is the perfect environment in which to pour Little Bulb’s talents, which always combine music and magic, childishness and sophistication, myth making and myth breaking.

Little Bulb have chosen a typically topsy turvy approach in their retelling of Orpheus’s quest to save his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Here, the myth is retold through the framing context of a 1930s French cabaret bar. Guitar maestro Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway) is our Orpheus for the night and Yvette Pepin (Eugenie Pastor) – who is a bit like Edith Piaf’s batty aunt – is our host and Orpheus’ doomed wife, Eurydice.

What follows is a musical mash up that has the air of a children’s school concert, yet is also a mature and slick production. The show pulses with the kind of knowing naivete that is now Little Bulb’s trademark. Everything – even the hugely sophisticated and high-end stuff – is performed with a great big twinkle in the eye.

Dominic Conway, as Reinhardt as Orpheus, is the heart of this show. He performs a number of numbers inspired by Reinhardt, which have all the twang and guts and soul of a gypsy and jazz performer rolled into one. There’s a bit of Chaplin in there too, as Conway suggestively wriggles his eyes at the audience, teasing giggles from us just as our heart-strings are being wrenched by his yearning, passionate playing. 

There is opera, ballet, cabaret and slapstick, all directed with confident panache by Alexander Scott. The efficient yet expressive approach of this company is encapsulated in the tidily effective design from Mary Drummond. A few simple sketches scrawled across draped sheets is all that is required to suggest a wood, Paris or a ghostly underworld.

There are of course shortcomings here. There always will be with a company this giddy. But it is brilliant to see Orpheus coming of age, yet still holding onto that gleeful, distilled creativity that sets them apart from the pack. This is a sophisticated production but it still radiates a rare and innocent energy that, for a few happy hours, makes kids of us all.

Till 11 May


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