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Hadestown (Susan Elkin reviews)

Hadestown – ★★★
Music, lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell
society/company: National Theatre
performance date: 13 Nov 2018
venue: Olivier Theatre, National Theatre

Well it’s certainly unusual. Many writers, composers, creatives and performers have had a go at the Orpheus legend: Monteverdi, Gluck and Offenbach to name but three. But no one has ever done it quite like this. Anais Mitchell’s underworld is a factory whose workers (slick ensemble of seven) provide an entertaining backdrop which sometimes, on Rachel Hauck’s set, becomes a raucous canteen area. Hell on earth?

Mitchell’s music is oddly traditional, much influenced by familiar musical theatre greats such as Lionel Bart and Andrew Lloyd Webber with set pieces that sail from lilt to belt, rap to patter and passionate to dispassionate. The very best thing about this music – immaculately played by a band split into three sections across the stage and occasionally joined from within the action by accomplished actor-musos in the cast – is the beautifully written orchestrations. In All I’ve Ever Known, for instance we get syncopated strings beneath the melody with Eva Noblezada as Eurydice and Reeve Carney as Orpheus in duet at the top of the texture and the effect is stunning.

Noblezada’s “hungry girl” who makes the mistake of selling out to the underworld and accidentally separating herself from her beloved Orpheus is arrestingly sincere. She sings with understated passion and convinces us totally. Carney plays guitar (quite competently) in lieu of lyre, and sings well enough – a very high tenor – to make it believable that extraordinary music is the only weapon in his armoury. Layered accompaniment from ensemble and band enhances it well too.

There’s a very memorable, charismatic performance from Amber Gray as a drunken Persephone teetering about, singing with blood-red, but witty despair as she seeks ways of coping with spending six months of every year in the underworld. I also loved the perfectly balanced, often funny, all singing, all dancing work of Carly Mercedes Dyer, Rosie Fletcher and Gloria Onitiri as the ever cynical, detatched three fates. They look wonderful too in shimmery silver dresses with adornments (costumes designed by Michael Krass)

Much less successful is Patrick Page as Hades. Yes, he has stage presence and manages to seem fairly sinister and ruthless but that basso profundo voice sounds strained and false as if he is out of his comfort zone consciously searching for the right note – and not, it has to be said, always finding it.

Neither did I like Andre de Shields tip toeing clumsily through the action as Hermes who has a narrator’s role in this take on the story. There is something off-puttingly hesitant about his acting.

Hadestown is a strange show. In some ways it’s innovative but in others you feel as if you’re in a 1970s revival.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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