Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Photo by Marnya Rothe

Mad March Hare Theatre Co. in association with Red Line Productions presents, EURYDICE, by Sarah Ruhl, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 15th November - 15th December.

The Greek myth has Orpheus enter the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, under the admonition that he must not look at her, trusting that she is following. He looks back and all is lost. Sarah Ruhl's 2003 play tells this myth through the experiences of Eurydice.

Eurydice, a lover of the power of language and words, falls into the underworld on her marriage day to the musician Orpheus, where she meets a stranger, her father. She has been dipped into the river Lethe and has no memory or any language. Her father against the advice of the Stones of the Underworld begins to re-teach her, whilst Orpheus attempts to contact her by writing and even, once, desperately, by telephoning. To no avail, so he inveigles a way to find entrance to the Underworld, and contacts Eurydice who then is tantalisingly torn between the two men in her life, her father and her husband. She calls to Orpheus. He turns and all is lost. He returns to the world to re-marry, and she to be dipped into the river Lethe and to remain dead to the world, laying beside a figure that could be her father.

Ms Ruhl, tells us that this play was written after the death of her own father and it allowed her to have further conversations with him. It reveals her need to sustain the love of her father whether or not it causes pain and longing in the pleasures and pain of memory. The play in elliptical style reveals the experience of grief and loss and the need to move on, to deny the urge to never let go.

The text of the play is full of language bafflements and poetic inclinations. But it is the freedom of the visual imagery in the design concepts that, together with that word power, that can elevate this play to a magical experience. It is encouraged by Sarah Ruhl. Isabel Hudson the Set, Costume and Puppet Designer, along with the technicolour Lighting effects created by Ben Brockman make a visual world that is both beautiful and transporting. The glue to enhancing this production is the Sound Design, by Ben Pierpoint, that is as intricate as it is apt, in supplying the aural stimulation to engage the imagination of the listener, the audience, into realms of fantastic places.

There has been some daring in the explorative Design choices of the Underworld characters, startlingly provocative but felicitous in result with the chorus of the Three Stones: Alex Malone (Big Stone), Ariadne Sgouros (Little Stone) and Megan Wilding (Loud Stone), popping up from beneath the earth they create a chorus of advice for Eurydice, that is harmonic and disciplined to perfection (What one longed for from the Chorus work in the present STC production of THE CHEERY SOUL), each with a kind of daemon persona represented in puppetry. Not so successful are the guises for the Lord of the Underworld (Nicholas Papademetriou) that are peculiar enough to distract from the content spoken, particularly on his return on scooter and a dinosaur mask perched on his shoulders.

The great performance is that of Jamie Oxenbould as Eurydice's Father - it is one of constant poignancy, full of emotional energies brimming with a love tinged by a yearning grief that escalates his desire to advise his daughter to be able to, against all odds, re-unite her with her husband Orpheus. His re-treat to the fate that Lethe gives out is as moving as his marriage walk with his daughter on his arm. Mr Oxenbould never disappoints.

Both, Ebony Vagulans (Eurydice) and Lincoln Vickery (Orpheus) create straight forward Australian ocker-youths - with a broad Aussie dialect that flattens the musical choices of language that Sarah Ruhl has so carefully manipulated for her re-visit to the classic Greek myths. The poetry of the text is both rhythmically and in the making of the sound values made to sound disjointed and anti-musical. One wonders whether the use of the American sound that the author wrote in would have escalated the experience of this play to its full potential. Though, to be frank, no-one uses the American rhythm. Mr Oxenbould uses educated Australian English, it has a heightened sound that lifts the language into another world of emotional depth transporting us into Ms Ruhl's poetic construct. The Three Stones take on an extreme educated Australian - almost high English - to successfully demarcate their responsibilities - it works for its crisp unusualness.

Ms Vagulans is full of her usual charm, personal identification and core energies in her work in making Eurydice. And, it does work, again. She even moves us with tears. But it is dangerously reminiscent of other work that we have seen from her - DIVING FOR PEARLS, FLIGHT PATHS and LUNA GALE - depending on her personal gifts and making them the principal source of her inspiration. She, staying with the easily reachable similarities to character to get by, with little imaginative delving into the differences of her opportunities in the variations of her characters that she has been able to explore for us, her audience. Her Eurydice hardly has the dimensions of the magical world that the Designers have surrounded her with - she has a literal comprehension and maybe not enough spiritual soul available for her Eurydice. This Eurydice is not much different from all of her other characterisations that she has given us.

Director Claudia Barrie and her artistic collaborators have thoughtfully sort a solution for this potently ethereal play and have created a puzzle, a mystery of experience for us in the theatre. A truly theatrical event. It was pleasurable time spent. Does it need to speed the tempo, so that we are left chasing all the ideas and the text, for sometimes there is a kind of 'spoon-feeding' tempo that begins to cause a slow-down, a pall, a disconnect, an exhaustion? I'd say trust your 'homework' and rip it through.

EURYDICE, very interesting - enjoyable.

P.S. After the curtain call the Three Stones produce a puppet and we are given a diverting performance of samples from pop song hits - some 5 or so minutes. It seemed gratuitous and, I reckon, harmful to the effect of the trance that the play production had woven about us. A vaudeville turn that really belongs in a cabaret program.

Cut it.

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