23 Princes: 23 Princes St, Dunedin

28/03/2019 - 30/03/2019

Dunedin Fringe 2019

Production Details

The internationally award-winning modern retelling of an ancient myth.  

Dave is single and turning 30. He’s stood at the bar. Eurydice is a tree nymph. Bruce Springsteen is on the jukebox.

Impossible, death-defying love told through hair-raising spoken word and soaring soul music.

“A true gem of a show whose praise I want to sing from the rooftops” – VoiceMag

Orpheus is proudly presented to you in conjunction with Dunedin Dream Brokerage. Please check www.dunedinfringe.nz for venue.

23 Princes: 23 Princes St, Dunedin
THU 28 – SAT 30 March 2019
$16.00 – $22.00
*Fees may apply 

Theatre , Solo ,

1hr 10m

Powerful emotional journey, truly magical theatre

Review by Alison Embleton 30th Mar 2019

One could be fairly confident in assuming that at any given time the Venn diagram of classical Greek mythology enthusiasts and die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans is essentially just two separate circles, perhaps nudging each other ever so gently. But for an hour, spent under the enchanting influence of Alex Wright and Phil Grainger, that Venn diagram is a single sphere.

Wright and Grainger both display an impressive skill set when it comes to crowd work before the show properly gets underway. They chat away genially about the space they’re using for this performance (courtesy of Urban Dream Brokerage, Dunedin) and share general banter with each other as well as the audience. This goes a long way towards creating the intimate feeling required for a performance such as this. They also outline the tale they’re about to tell, assuring the audience that even if we’re not Greek scholars or Springsteen fans, we soon will be.

Together the pair tell the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the main features of the plot remain the same but with a modern spin and some rather more relatable humour than the original. We start out with a group of Northern English lads hitting the town and we meet our protagonist (he goes by Dave now, just roll with it) whether you know the original story or not, it’s not difficult to keep up. We learn about Dave’s creative and wondrous childhood and the way he’s gradually had to push down his creativity and now views the world in shades of grey. He’s a blurred and unremarkable guy, all the spark has been drained out of him. But that’s all about to change, thanks to a little ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and the radiant arrival of Eurydice. Don’t let yourself get too caught up in his happiness though, as Wright points out: “this shit’s about to get Greek.”

There are a few jokes tucked in the script for those familiar with the original text, for example: we meet a taxi driver who is amusingly named Sharon. And even if you aren’t familiar with the original, you’ll hopefully still get this joke a bit later when you’re introduced the ferryman at the river Styx as our protagonist makes his way to the underworld.

Wright is a gifted storyteller and has perfected the bittersweet manoeuvre of comedy unexpectedly bleeding into tragedy, without ever tipping over into maudlin.

Grainger’s voice is beautiful, and the mix of his acoustic covers and original songs woven through the story heighten the emotional beats throughout. An EP for sale, along with the book of poetry/lyrics they have available, would not go amiss.

The style of this production reminds me nostalgically of Grim Tales, a largely forgotten ITV series from the late 80s/early90s featuring Rik Mayall retelling the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Like Mayall, Wright and Grainger both radiate a shambolic charm; the kind that’s only endearing and successful when coming from those who are clearly both talented and extremely dedicated to their craft.

Orpheus feels very lived in, in the best possible way. The words, the music, the complimentary rhythms of Wright and Grainger are all in perfectly imperfect sync. Given these guys have been touring the show since 2016, it could so easily be stale and lacklustre by now.

My only real issue with this show is how disappointing it is that, despite the modernisation of the Orpheus character and the touching way in which he is fleshed out as a complex individual from youth right through to adulthood, Eurydice remains simply the love interest. She is given no characterisation other than her ability to heal the protagonist and provide a great, wondrous love for him. Sure, she’s clearly a powerful individual, but it’s all in service of a man. It’s 2019. Does Eurydice still have to suffer the fate of being a mere plot device?

Audience participation is something I frequently struggle with. So often it’s ill-thought through and creates strange tension among a reluctant audience. But if done well, it can elevate a theatrical experience considerably. Orpheus definitely falls in the latter category. Both performers make a point of bringing the audience into their banter and conversation, but they never single anyone out. Everything is orchestrated to bring the audience together as a group. At Grainger’s invitation we all quietly sing and/or hum along to the music at various points and it amalgamates us all, a room full of strangers playing the role of a very quiet Greek chorus. And our small contribution makes the emotional journey all the more powerful.

Orpheus, as brought to us by Wright and Grainger, is a truly magical piece of theatre. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo