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Orpheus in the Underworld at the Young Vic

Alice Dickerson

A commendable attempt to broaden the appeal of opera, but one that unfortunately is more likely to turn the audience off rather than on.

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is relatively well known. Eurydice dies. Orpheus journeys to the Underworld to plead with Pluto for her return. All does not go to plan. It makes for a good story and one that has produced great drama for many centuries, including the operetta Orpheus in the Underworld. In this co-production by Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera, Orpheus and Eurydice are celebrities in a sham marriage, whose common interests are not love and music but filling the gossip columns and securing magazine deals.

The topical puns represent the most entertaining aspect of this production. This is perhaps not surprising, given that the main draw of the show is that it has been rewritten by Rory Bremner, famed for his impressions and biting satire (and less known for his skills as a librettist). So, whilst we find ourselves in the midst of the Leveson Inquiry, there were plenty of digs at tabloid journalists and the gossip-hungry masses. The funniest quip of the evening came, not from one the characters, but from the staging when emblazoned with a sensational front page from the News of the Underworld.

Beyond this though, laughs were limited. Orpheus in the Underworld was first performed as a subversive take on decadent and rotten nineteenth century Paris. It is therefore appropriate to seek to update the production as a satirical take on modern day celebrity-obsessed Britain. But this production fails to avoid the obvious pitfalls and descends into cliché and innuendo. The humour was often crude and tasteless and too many 'operatic climaxes' left the audience in silence rather than stitches.

This touring production has done well, thanks largely to the 'Bremner brand'. However, it is far from Rory Bremner's finest work. The singing was actually quite good but, even if the acting had been much better, the actors would have struggled with the poor dialogue and lyrics. It is ironic that, for a production which pokes fun at vacuous celebrity, half the participants of this year's Strictly Come Dancing were in the audience. Perhaps Bremner has been spending too much time amongst other famous faces, rather than mocking them.

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