EFR - Reviews of Orpheus

Orpheus

Fri 5th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Ramin Sabi

at 09:33 on 8th Aug 2011

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This semi-devised piece by St Paul’s School students is an incredibly impressive piece that is probably one of the most distinct and different production an audience member will find at the Fringe. Very loosely inspired by the Orpheus myth, this production integrates film into the core of the play, with a screen either side of the centre stage that provides both backdrops and insight into both the characters and the nature of the play itself.

The play deals with the emptiness of modern commercialist existence, as the protagonist Oliver, played superbly by Artemas Bolour-Froushan, works in an advertising agency that professes the end of individual identity. We are exposed to Oliver’s marriage, which at times appears to be weak purely from under-cooked dialogue, but this is all to convey the emptiness of his relationship. We see great reference to art, the idea of the image and most importantly the mirror, emphasised by a hanging half frame that characterises the beauty and precision of this production. After a surreal and disturbing encounter with death, both incarnate and in the form of a dead tattooed man (the tattoos being some of the best art-work in the whole production) walking through a mirror, Oliver goes mad trying to find an explanation. The thin veil of his existence starts to slip away until Death steals his wife. Like in the classical myth, he must go to the underworld to find her. But the underworld created in this production – ‘The Zone’ – is an expansive video-scape of decrepit urban structures that leads us to question the hell of modern city life. As Oliver is tortured, in the most disturbing and atmospheric moments of the play (we see him on the video being waterboarded), we see the production shedding a whole new light on the idea of self-discovery through dreams. The film in the background allows for an exploration of dream as would be impossible in any other theatrical context, allowing dream and reality to merge in a stunning sequence. As the play climaxes, the audience is left to wonder the true motivations behind Oliver’s self-discovery – is his superficial emptiness acute or a symptom of our modern society?

Bolour-Froushan’s central performance was outstanding. Never leaving the stage, he maintains a permanent intensity, clarified by the sweat that covers his body by the end. His performance alone makes this production worth seeing. But there is so much more – Alex Fox delivers a marvellous turn as the intimidating but complex Death (although there were times when he slipped into melodrama).

This production misses out on five stars for a few reasons: some of the dialogue and acting, especially near the beginning, lacked credibility and was in danger of being overly forced. Oliver takes a number of soliloquies and monologues, which at times feel unnecessary or over-didactic, explaining perhaps too much that the audience should be able to figure out on their own. This problem is counterbalanced by the beauty of the language of these monologues, with moments of poetry that are almost breath-taking: “there is an army underneath my skin”. But there is the danger at times of sounding too aphoristic and too much like a classroom analysis of their own play. Each of the two halves also carries on for about five minutes too long, leaving areas of repetition (largely surrounding Oliver’s increasing madness in the first half and questioning his purpose in the second half) that confuse rather than elucidate the themes.

Despite these problems, Andrew Broughton’s writing and directing must be applauded for its ingenuity and scale, taking into account an array of classical myths that seem almost impossible to comprehend and expanding the boundaries of what theatre can utilise and show. I strongly urge anyone who wants to experience something different, innovative and challenging to see this Orpheus.

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Rachel Lovibond

at 09:53 on 8th Aug 2011

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Fusing and interchanging film and theatre, St. Paul’s School’s adaptation of Cocteau’s adaptation of ‘Orpheus’ was a genuinely exhilarating performance. This production of ‘Orpheus’ presents Oliver, a man whose days are constructed through a film of advertisements, twitter and facebook updates and the production contemplates the contrast between the mentalities and hells of the modern man and the men of Greek mythology. The original story of Orpheus is narrated on screens through tattoo art, a concept which continues to obsess Oliver as he negotiates his own encounter with death, hell and its relation to his life on the surface.

The set consisted of half a frame hanging from the ceiling, one bed and two large screens, giving an appropriately oppressive feel to the character physically positioned between. The frame acts as a mirror, alluding to Cocteau’s own interpretation of the original myth. This production, however, takes use of mirrors a step further, with the screened films acting as Oliver’s personal, inward facing mirrors, allowing the audience a strikingly visual impression of the interiority of the character.

Artemas Bolour-Froushan as Oliver was truly captivating to watch. His presence, particularly when alone on stage, was entrancing and he delivered his monologues with a sense of immediacy which was so believable that it was almost haunting. It was also interesting to be able to compare the actors' abilities on stage and on screen simultaneously and the fact that the standard of acting remained high in both demonstrates the versatility of Bolour-Froushan’s talent.

I didn’t feel like all the other performances were so consistently excellent, which prevented the play from being exceptional. However the portrayal of an advertising agency so ‘edgy’ and boundary pushing that it implements concepts such as ‘no desk-day’ and advocates a physical lack of walls to inspire thinking without barriers was very amusing and provided moments of relief in an otherwise overtly intense theatrical experience.

This was a mature, terrifying and compelling take on the myth of Orpheus and exposed aspects of man’s character which are often left untouched. For sure, this is a play that ought not to be missed.

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