Hadestown at the National Theatre
Orpheus? More like Borepheus. A glib assessment of National Theatre’s pre-Broadway staging of Hadestown, perhaps, but one that contains an element of truth to it. For though many of its composite parts excel, the overall experience is a bit of a drag (me to hell).
Narratively, Anais Mitchell’s musical – adapted from her concept album of the same name with help from director Rachel Chavkin – is a bit of a muddle. When merely providing a Great Depression-era update to Eurydice’s journey into Hades(town), and Orpheus’s attempts to rescue her, it’s broadly fine. The off-road trip into topicality, however, gets pretty clunky. This is a show that contains a song called Why We Build the Wall – with lyrics included in the programme in case you miss its importance – casting Hades in a bluntly, overtly Trumpish light, sort of out of nowhere.
To be fair, the plot does somewhat build on this – that the allure of the charismatic Hades backfires spectacularly on Eurydice, who signs her soul away for a lifetime of uncaring capitalism, has an obvious metaphorical heft. But it does all sit together rather awkwardly, especially when those political elements gradually get dropped as the narrative shifts back towards the structure of the original story.
The sound of the show is great, a riotous blast of bluesy, folky Americana. On a song-by-song basis, however, it is slightly less memorable, a problem exacerbated by Chavkin’s repetitive direction. Nearly every number involves some configuration of round-and-round, up-and-down, the Olivier’s spinning central drum getting a full workout without the production ever justifying its use beyond the very basic idea of sinking into the depths of Hades.
It’s time to talk about Orpheus. Mitchell’s characterisation and Reeve Carney’s performance merge to make a supremely irritating, overly earnest, Jeff Buckley-esque singer-songwriter saviour, pulling faux rock star grimaces as he strums his ever-present guitar. Initially, it seems like we’re meant to see him as a bit of a doofus; by the end, he – more than his eternally-damned lover – becomes the emotional focal point, a weight the character can’t shoulder.
That this comes at the expense of Eva Noblezada’s Eurydice makes it an even bigger crime. Though charming throughout, a serious lack of chemistry with Carney – which really harms the narrative’s stakes – and a reduced role in the second act means she never has the impact her fantastic voice demands. The performances around the front pair are, thankfully, much better. Patrick Page’s devilish, and absurdly deep-throated, depiction of Hades is hardly anything new, but it is an absolute ball, a description that can apply to Amber Gray’s sad and sozzled Persephone and Andre De Shields’s smooth-as-all-hell Hermes.
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Hadestown is at the National Theatre from 13th November 2018 until 26th January 2019. Book your tickets here.