Book: Little Bulb Theatre
Music: Ed Clarke
Lyrics: Little Bulb Theatre
Director: Alexander Scott
Reviewer: Gemma Corden
On the back of two sold-out runs in London, dynamic young theatre outfit Little Bulb brings its madcap take on the classic Greek myth, Orpheus, on a UK tour. The Birmingham REP’s STUDIO is transformed into a 1930s Parisian theatre in which songstress and compere, Yvette Pepin (Eugenie Pastor), a charming hybrid of Olive Oyl and Edith Piaf with her clownish makeup, marionette posturing and gutsy rolled r’s, the jazz virtuoso, Django Reinhardt (Dominic Conway), and their troupe of operatic players put on a silent movie-style production of the tragic tale.
Reinhardt is poet-musician Orpheuswhile Pepin plays his lost love Eurydice and in a whirlwind of French chanson, opera, dance parody and a lively score of hot club jazz. We witness the hero’s sad descent into the Underworld in a desperate attempt to reclaim his wife.
The compact cast of eight is expertly chameleon-like from the first chord strummed. Each actor plays an instrument and in a feat of frankly eye-widening dedication, Pastor, Clare Beresford and Alexander Scott learnt from scratch the slide whistle, double bass and clarinet respectively for this production, the company’s biggest to date. They then toured the country as a real-life jazz band and the result is an immaculate musical performance from all. A nod too to Charlie Penn who is understated but pivotal as the pianist.
Beresford, Miriam Gould and Shamira Turner shape-shift impressively between enigmatic chanteuses, swooning groupies and Beatrix-Potter-on-acid animals. Conway’s Reinhardt is both minimal and full-bodied with the commanding presence of a Latin dancer, his smouldering kohl-rimmed eyes often saying more than his virtuosic fingers.
Director (and clarinet player) Alexander Scott has created a gem here and any initial reservations at the mash-up concept are soon charmed away. Remarkably, every move made in this production is precisely comedic, right down to the finest detail. Highlights are a delightful Paris pop culture montage complete with lit-up Eiffel Tower and a bearded Scott as dancing bear. Aside from an extended musical interlude after the interval that serves to pause the action for no clear reason other than perhaps to showcase the skills of the musicians, the frantic staging is engaging and the addition of scene titles projected onto the theatre curtains helps to frame a story that could otherwise get lost in the hubbub, although one feels this wouldn’t matter too much.
In the large part, Orpheus is a mirthful romp through a tragedy, but a haunting number delivered in an unexpected falsetto by percussionist Tom Penn in the penultimate act adds a poignant note that has the audience stunned.
With its simple script and handmade styling that sees the Underworld realised with the aid of what looks like a bed sheet, Orpheus delivers beguiling child-like charm left, right and centre, but one feels this whole production hinges on Pastor. As Pepin, her French caricature could grate. Pepin plays Eurydice as, essentially, Pepin, but this works a dream and Pastor’s solid delivery, scarily natural comic sensibility (and her good pair of lungs) anchor what could otherwise be a show descending into chaos.
Runs Until: 31 October 2015 | Image: RULER