Directors: James Brining & Alex Ramseyer-Bache
Orpheus in the Record Shop was originally seen in Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre in October as part of the excellent Connecting Voices season staged by the Playhouse and Opera North. Aletta Collins’ original production has now been directed on film by James Brining and Alex Ramseyer-Bache. Though essentially the same, it has undergone some changes, including a reduction in length from 80 to 60 minutes, tightening up the rather leisurely opening section. Having been shown on BBC 4 on April 21st as part of the Lights Up season, it is now available on BBC iPlayer.
The concept is a highly original one. Rapper and playwright Testament recasts the Orpheus story very loosely as the story of the woes of the owner of a record shop. He is foregrounded as narrator/singer/rapper/beat boxer while gradually musicians from Opera North join him in a remarkably coherent fusion of musical styles.
Filmed in the Quarry Theatre, the production initially isolates Testament as Orpheus, spotlit in the surrounding darkness, as he talks of the pleasures and problems of running a record shop. Alone, apart from his electronic wizardry, he gives us all the typical sounds of his life, from the clicking of the needle on vinyl to the characteristic phrases and rhythms of all the styles of music into which he sorts his stock.
Testament varies his delivery from amiable chat to intense rap, acting out economically his encounters with security or Ed Sheeran-mad schoolgirls. It’s a virtuoso performance and comes over more strongly than in the theatre thanks to shifting camera shots highlighting Testament’s facially expressive acting.
However, the true originality of the performance only emerges when the focus broadens as Orpheus begins to fill in the details of his story of loss and loneliness. He, too – like the original Orpheus – has lost his beloved, though she has gone to a job in Italy, not been dragged down to Hades. As the narrative progresses, the lighting begins to pick out musicians seated onstage behind Orpheus, initially a harp punctuating a powerful soul-tinged vocal. Then Helen Evora’s evocative wordless vocals build up the intensity of his tale and Everal A. Walsh, seated in the auditorium, brings a gritty melancholy to his commentary on Orpheus’ failings.
The arrangements for a small chamber orchestra complement Testament’s rapping and rhythmic narrative remarkably well and the ending is suitably Orphic. He achieves contentment with the message, “Don’t look back,” before the final music unites his repeated words “Music everywhere” with Evora recalling the most famous of the songs of Orpheus, Gluck’s Che faro senza Euridice.
Available on iPlayer into 2022