Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Little Bull theatre
Battersea Arts Centre, 7 May 2013

"Django Reinhardt" as Orpheus.
Entertaining pastiche Parisian Jazz Age hot club version of the Orpheus myth that nonetheless touches a tragic sentiment at the climax.

Sometimes site-specific theatre can create a powerful dramatic effect. My previous site-specific performance at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) was  Punchdrunk’s Poe interpretation, and I don't recall feeling moved. The Centre’s art nouveau architecture is much better suited to this ironic, but powerful, version of the Orpheus myth.

The conceit is that this is a 1920s Parisian Jazz setting of the myth, in a music hall that has engaged the great Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt as Orpheus.

The result of this playful idea is a burlesque that the actual Reinhardt, or indeed any of his contemporaries, is unlikely to have been involved in. For example, the production deftly parodies (and celebrates) silent films, in a way inspired by the recent film The Artist.

This doesn’t matter: what matters is that the combination of hot jazz, infectiously broad humour and quotations from the French classical tradition and Monteverdi’s Orfeo somehow works.

The details matter. From the poster design, to the drinks and food menu at the BAC, the spell is woven from many strands, and the effect is magical. If the result isn’t authentic 1920s Paris, it nonetheless feels much more romantic than 2010s London.

Django got a proper hommage during the interval, which ought to have gotten the crowd swinging like Josephine Baker, if only we weren’t all so bourgeois.

Eight musicians who can also act, dance and sing would be an impossible casting requirement, and we wouldn’t find such a cast in Battersea. So it’s just as well that this production was intended to be mostly funny; the entertainment value was very high, especially as the musicians were genuinely talented at evoking the period’s jazz.

But at the key moment, the dramatic potential of the Orpheus myth rightly superseded the humorous theatricality of the rest of the evening. Persephone’s aria, leading to Orpheus and Eurydice’s escape, and climaxing with Orpheus’ doubt and tragic second loss… all of this was played seriously and very movingly.

It was also original music, composed by this extremely talented company, Little Bull Theatre, of whom I hope to experience more great evenings.

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