Orpheus review

Behind the Scenes – Surrey Mirror, 31 January 2002

Orpheus gets 21st century Treatment

It must be the season for Orpheus In the Underworld. Not only has Leatherhead Operatic just performed this hilarious production but now Surrey Opera is taking to the stage with the same show. Not quite, though.

Because Surrey Opera is bringing this light-hearted operetta right up to date for the 21st century, setting their production in a health farm.

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, which includes the famous Can-Can, is loosely based on Greek mythology and the highly amusing antics of various gods and goddesses. But in this brand new modern day version the characters become celebrities, attempting to de-tox and lose weight in a gruelling regime.

There are sure to be many familiar faces in the show – not least artistic director of Surrey Opera Jonathan Butcher, who will be conducting the production. Jonathan, a highly respected conductor and well-known in the area, says rehearsals have been going well. “The director, Mark Hathaway, has come up with a brilliant setting and it really does work extraordinarily well”, says Jonathan, who has been the artistic director of Surrey Opera for more than 25 years.

“We still have all the usual characters, such as Mars and Jupiter, but we see them as 21st century celebrities. ”Mount Olympus becomes the first floor of a health club – the Olympic Health Suite, where the gods and goddesses have their massage treatments.

“But when they want to eat and drink, they sneak off to the basement, which is Hell”

It is not only the setting, however, that makes this particular production unusual but also their choice of translation.

“We are using a translation by Jeremy Sams that was originally commissioned by the professional opera company, Opera North, and hasn’t been used since.

“Jeremy Sams, who’s probably most famous for writing the music for the West End production of Wind in the Willows, is really excited that we’re using his translation and it should be a great show”.

The production boasts a strong cast, including professionals such as Tom Rankin who plays Orpheus and Jane Streeton who plays Eurydice.

The talented chorus is made up of people from across the county, many of them from the immediate area. Jupiter will be played by Tim Baldwin, who comes from Redhill.

Surrey Opera, founded in 1969, is renowned for the quality of its production. This new show, at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill, is sure to be no exception.

The society’s first ever performance was held in the old Market Hall, Redhill, where the Harlequin is now, so in a sense it’s returning to its roots.

The group is always keen to welcome new members – anyone who is interested is asked to do an informal audition.

Several young professional singers, who have made their debuts with Surrey Opera, have gone on to have operatic careers. Standards are kept consistently high.

Derrick Graham of the Surrey Mirror wrote:

THIS was Orpheus with a difference! In fact, SURREY Opera’s version bore little relationship with the more familiar stage plot and even less to the myth as set out in the program.

The Underworld to which Pluto took Eurydice was the basement of the Arcadia Health Spa, complete with washing machines and a laundry chute down which came the dirty towels from the gym, pool and sauna upstairs.

Fortunately, Offenbach’s music remained unchanged and, presumably, so did all the words to them, though with opera it is not always possible to follow the story when it is being performed at full power with an orchestra.

It wa a magnificent production despite the updated story line and, as always, Jonathan Butcher had tuned the singing and the musicians to perfection.

Costumes were modern dress: leotards and shorts, dressing gowns and towels and, in the case of the Graves Dancers, dressing gowns and some very modern underwear revealed when they threw them off for the Can Can.

Eurydice, played by Jane Streeton, was the receptionist at the Health Spa and was having trouble with her philandering husband Orpheus, who is a composer and runs classes for students of the violin.

Tom Ruskin was excellent in the part and if he wasn’t actually playing the violin he had been wonderfully tutored so that he appeared to be doing so. [he was - RFH]

Eurydice is having an affair with Pluto (Paul Sheehan), an instructor in aerobics (the chorus should have lost a bit of weight by the time the tour is finished), and she decides to leave her husband and go off with Pluto.

They exit by diving down the dirty linen shute leading to the basement, which in this story is the Underworld, instead of Hades in the original (Pluto is in fact the devil).

Meanwhile, on the upper floor of the Spa, all the gods are in the Olympus Beauty Suite having massage, manicures, face packs etc. and as it is very foggy we might assume there is a sauna somewhere.

Alexander Main-Ian who is 11 made an excellent Cupid, equipped not with a bow and arrow but a water pistol.

Jupiter, magnificently sung by Tim Baldwin, is brought a message by Mercury (Simon Carvery) advising him of Pluto’s wicked deed in luring Eurydice down to his lair.

Jupiter rushes off to save her and finds her very bored in a four poster bed in the basement attended by Pluto’s servant Styx, a fine performance by John Coleman.

Everybody else from upstairs arrives and a wild party gets under way: plenty of food and wine and the Can Can dancers do their piece.

Orpheus arrives to try and save his wife and is told that he will have to lead her out without looking back. Unfortunately he does so and so she has to spend the rest of eternity in the Basement.

The transformation to the present day worked fairly well, though it was helpful to know the original story to be able to follow the basic plot.

Sound control was excellent except at the beginning when the narrator, Public Opinion played by Rosemary Hayes, had her `setting the scene’ drowned out by the music.

The production moves over to the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, where it runs until Saturday, February 16.