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Talking Gods: Orpheus – Arrows & Traps

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer and Director: Ross McGregor

 A pairing with love so strong it meant he was driven to literal hell to recover her when she died, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is well known to modern and classical audiences. Its impossible romance has fed artists and dreamers for centuries and has inspired rich works of allegory and drama. With Ross McGregor’s version we’re given an updated view of the couple, where he’s still a god, capable of magic and with a self-regard to match, and she is a nymph and caring agriculture specialist who finds it hard to say no.

In this iteration, he’s a tragically recognisable struggling musician. He’s devoted to his “art” and rebelling against such dreadful things like a “job”. Eurydice supports him financially and emotionally – all possible ways. It’s turned from a story of devotion and love in the Greek canon to one of dependence, jealousy, selfishness, gaslighting and pettiness.

Charting an initially happy union’s journey through disintegration is tough. McGregor’s writing and the performances from Charlie Ryall as Eurydice and Christopher Neels as Orpheus convey worlds of tension and struggle with tender economy, pinpointing key moments where the relationship strains just a little too much for repair.

McGregor tricks you into engaging with deeper themes like the different moral attitudes to sex between the genders during a moment where the main thing happening are chips and Blue WKDs. The dread and dissatisfaction bred by climate change and unchecked capitalism sneak in via a highly effective monologue from Eurydice after a fight about jobs. Bigger motifs wrap around a pedestrian story of a woman in a difficult relationship learning to value herself enough to finally break free – though it represents an entertaining twist on the original myth. Through the writing, there’s frequent nods and classical allusions to connect it to the core myth, but it’s a very modern story.

As the musician, Neels gives us a mixed bag of covers of famous songs that punctuate the narrative, backing up or explaining key points. It’s not really enough to move stones or cause beasts of the field to lie at his feet, but in its way it works well as part of the production. His man-child Orpheus is not endearing, and hard to watch some times. Ryall’s Eurydice swings from engaging and charismatic to emotionally tepid throughout, leaving us to question where the key cues are for us as the audience.

It’s a creative retelling of the myth, a fine stab at wringing fresh inspiration from the classics. Its applicability to a modern setting is intelligently brought through and is entertaining. At an hour and a half it’s too long and tells us little new, however.

Available here alongside Persephone, and continues with Pygmalion, Aphrodite and Icarus

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Creative retelling of the myth

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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