Olivier, National Theatre – until 26 January 2018
Folky, emotive, excellently performed and ever relevant, the National Theatre’s production of Hadestown is a grand triumph. The folk opera by Anaïs Mitchell started life in 2006 as a small concert which then became an album and gained a cult following. A fully formed, Off-Broadway production came from the genius team of Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin who have continued their partnership for this new production which they are taking to Broadway after its run at the National.
Despite a number of iterations, the story has always remained the same and the music, scarily relevant. We follow the story of Orpheus who could charm anyone with his music and Eurydice, the woman who falls in love with him, but he loses as he tries to lead her out of the underworld.
This show is wonderfully smart and sharp in the way it twists the original stories to feel current whilst still maintaining their mythic feel. Orpheus and Eurydice aren’t magical spirits but a young boy and girl facing famine and the trials of life in a failing world. Hades, ruler of the underworld also rules the mines and offers his people “freedom” by giving them jobs but also imprisoning them behind a wall. ‘Why We Build The Wall’ must be one of the most topical numbers of the show and it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written more recently. The parallels with the state of the USA are undeniable.
The sleek but intricate set of Rachel Hauck, takes the tale to a Depression-era bar, where André De Shields as Hermes, narrates the show and introduces us to the meanings behind what’s to come whilst accompanied by a life, bluesy band who are dotted around the stage. His rich voice transports the audience to another world.
The operatic nature comes from the recitatives which pepper the show and provide lyrical pauses from the sometimes repetitive songs. The cast do an absolutely outstanding job of performing the beautiful music, providing spades of emotion. The pureness of the show and performances within it moved me to tears several times and the man next to me must have exclaimed “wow” after at least 90% of songs.
Reeve Carney has a soft-rock vibe to his Orpheus, with his spiked hair and calming voice showing Eurydice would have been drawn to him. Eva Noblezada is on another vocal level with her performance; her voice is supremely clear and the effortless way she delivers every line is truly magical to behold. Every word that leaves her mouth is infused with feeling and the way she idly carries herself round the stage makes her the perfect counterpart to the equally cool, Orpheus. Their sweet duet, All I’ve Ever Known is a magical moment.
Reminiscent of The Huger Games’ President Snow and the USA’s President Trump, Hades is played menacingly by Patrick Page. The weight of his words and performance cut close to home and his growling bass voice enchants everyone who hears it. What’s most scary is the way he also reveals a tender side which is mesmerising and terrifying at once. Hey Little Songbird is an example of the way he can wrap someone around his finger; he seduces Eurydice before telling his wife later that the girl means nothing to him. As his half-drunk, half-lonely wife Persephone, Amber Gray gives a masterclass performance. Her high energy moments are contrasted perfectly with moments of sadness which seep out of her and cover the audience in waves.
Chavkin has worked with every performer, set piece, musician and lighting moment to create a show which has us lingering between despair and hope. The sharp choreography from David Neumann works fantastically with the revolves of the Oliver stage and bring an equally frenetic and still mood to the piece.
This is a production all about balance and the entire cast, crew and creative team have done an astounding job of highlighting the pain and beauty which inhabits our world. Mention goes to the Fates (Rosie Fletcher, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Gloria Onitiri) and Jordan Shaw who all caught the eye throughout with their supremely grounded performances.
Hadestown is painfully relevant and beautifully moving. It’s a production which will surely be remembered by all who see it, and should be seen by all.
Hadestown runs at the National Theatre until January 26th 2019
photo credit: Helen Maybanks