Battersea Arts Centre is my favourite place in London. And the reason is because of things like Orpheus – Battersea Arts Centre and Little Bulb Theatre’s retelling of the Greek Myth.
It lies somewhere between a silent movie and a cabaret in 1930s Paris. The show is funny, sweet and energetic. The set is pretty, the lighting is pretty and the costumes are pretty and work well when swapping between serious and comedic tones. The music is beautiful. At its core it’s a solid show. And then it’s also a lot more than that.
Orpheus is not artistically ground-breaking. It isn’t going to alter the way you view the world. I am not a changed woman having watched it. And sometimes shows at BAC do offer those things as a result of seeing a show. But I don’t really think Orpheus is trying to do that. Orpheus is a cracking night out.
It is performed with generosity and joy. As the cabaret comes alive the audience clap and cheer. The first half is fine and nice and good but it is at the interval where Orpheus becomes electric. In a moment of pure perfection during the extended interval an elderly couple stand and begin to dance together. Several other couples follow. The band keep playing and there’s this rush of affection that starts out being directed towards the couple waltzing and spinning their way through the seating and, as the second half begins, is redirected towards the company.
The story continues and the music keeps playing with a sudden underlying new energy from the audience. And then. And then. AND THEN. Eurydice is in the underworld, Orpheus wants her free and Hades denies his request. THEN PERSEPHONE SINGS. Persephone is played by Tom Penn. As he steps forward I thought this would be an over-the-top, sudden drag number. But it’s not. He sings the story of Persephone in the most spellbinding way. And it is here that Orpheus makes my heart briefly cease to beat before causing it to explode in ecstasy. It is high and haunting and so utterly, utterly beautiful I wanted nothing more than to cry my little eyes dry. In this moment, Orpheus manages to present one of the most mesmerising moments I have ever seen in theatre.
We reach the end. Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited in death. The band play their final songs. The audience leave the Grand Hall and enter the bar where the party continues with more live music. This is how Battersea Arts Centre carves out its place in my heart – they treat theatre as so much more than seeing a show and somehow create an experience around it that creates an atmosphere of shared excitement. The front of house staff walk around in black tie and everywhere is decorated to fit the 30s theme. They’ve made an extra little bar. You can get seats where you’re offered dinner and your little table candle will illuminate the play’s darker moments like twinkling stars in the sky.
Orpheus is about having a brilliant night – with dancing, drinking, laughter and joining in. I had a brilliant night.