Hades is coming to town…
Hamilton eat your hat, Hades is coming to town.
If Hades is king of the Underworld, Hermes is the king of Soul. And Soul is what this play exudes, in bucket loads. From the moment Hermes (the brilliant Andre De Shields) walks on stage in his 70’s silver grey shiny sharp suit and sequinned waistcoat, with a voice of pure honey, he engages the audience in the wonderful mythical narrative of love, melancholy, desire and trust, on journey into the dark and shadowy underworld.
Anais Mitchell’s folk musical is based on the well-known Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in an interpretation which has music at its heart. Director Rachel Chavkin’s vivid production is rich and intoxicating, transporting its audience to America – think New Orleans, in the midst of The Depression – creating a visual and musical feast of sultry jazz and folk with a distinctive Southern flavour. Witty and highly tuneful, these songs are steeped in passion and performed by a highly talented American cast.
Hadestown has been many years in the making, starting out as a community theatre project and then a successful cult album before being developed by Mitchell and Chavkin into the folk musical it is today, now treading the boards on the Oliver stage at the National Theatre before it heads to Broadway next year.
Rachel Hauck’s clever design sets the stage in an American Wild West saloon-style bar, making great use of The Olivier’s rotating floor, which works well to give the impression of the arduous journey the characters undertake, along with a central drum that sinks deep into the underworld. The band are scattered about the stage, beautifully orchestrated by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, commanding a sweeping sound with a wonderful string section, guitar, trombone, keyboards and drums.
With mischief in his voice, Hermes introduces the characters – Eurydice (played with an innocent charm and integrity by Eva Noblezada) a cold, poor and hungry traveller walking the streets in search of a place to call home. Along her journey she meets (the rather drippy) Orpheus (Reeve Carney) similarly penniless but with dreams and hopes of bringing the seasons of spring and summer back to the lands once more through song.
The stage really lights up when the splendid Persephone (wonderfully depicted by Amber Gray) emerges from an upstairs bedroom, bottle in hand, portrayed as a complete lush.
We learn of the reason why the earth is plunged into cold dark months where nothing on the land can grow. Persephone, of course, is the Greek goddess whose love of the King of the underworld, Hades, has committed her to spend half the year underground and the rest above. The charismatic Hades is expertly performed by the marvellous Patrick Page as a slick silver fox in an ankle length leather coat. With a glorious husky voice, his song is almost a spoken verse. Page says: ‘I learned how to speak verse by listening to Olivier and Gielgud’…And it shows.
When the audience joins the delightful arrival of the Persephone back on the land, everything is merry and bright and the love between Eurydice and Orpheus unfolds and grows in the months of hope and joy. Singing and dancing take place, but as the months draw to a close Persephone is forced to return, and dreamer Orpheus becomes lost in his own world of songwriting and his obsession with writing the song that will once more bring the sun and light back to the land and restore the seasons that the world knew.
Meanwhile, all is not well in the underworld, depicted here as an industrial mine. The six long months with Persephone away have taken their toll on Hades, who has missed his lover and determines to spite her by luring a hungry, cold Eurydice into selling her soul for the promise of warmth and a home, thereby imprisoning her in his dark empire. There are some topical references here too – especially in the song ‘Why We Build The Wall’!
The rest, of course, is history, and how well this show portrays it. We are treated to some extraordinarily good dance numbers, courtesy of Steve Kirkham’s perfect choreography, and a very strong chorus brilliantly cast to represent the world as it really is.
Hadestown is a sure-fire rollicking hit – catch it now.
Broadway, here it comes!
Until Jan 26
London SE1 9PX
020 7452 3000
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