Tue 7th – Mon 27th August 2012


Leah Eades

at 10:41 on 8th Aug 2012



UCLU Runaground’s production of two-times Pulitzer Prize Nominee Sarah Ruhl’s reimagining of the Orpheus myth, “Eurydice”, is a theatrical playground, visual masterpiece and abstract joy, set in a bizarre Underworld where stones are characters, the dead are amnesiacs and letters come delivered by worms.

This production was beautiful to watch, and well above the standard of normal student productions: hats off to directors Rebecca Speller and Nick Flooks for creating something so flawless. The production balanced tragedy with black humour, and absurdity with the pathos of death. In Ruhl’s world, the waters of Lethe take your memories of life and are sprinkled from a watering can upon your arrival, Orpheus writes letters containing symphonies that come delivered on washing lines, and the Lord of the Underworld is a hilariously creepy midget puppet on a tricycle (played to perfection by Rob Thomson). The stage is cut clear in half, with the world of the living on one side (where we see a grief-stricken and desperate Orpheus) and the dead on the other, with the entrance doorway in the middle separating them. Puppetry, physical theatre and the eerie atmosphere created by light and sound all combine to create an otherworldly experience.

Ruhl’s adaptation of the Orpheus myth contains some major differences to the original: most obviously, having Eurydice’s deceased father waiting for her in the Underworld. Thus her choice of returning to the living world with Orpheus is complicated as it means leaving the father she’s already lost once, and meaning that the definition of love is expanded from the purely romantic – a touch I liked. In this version also, Orpheus only looks back because Eurydice calls to him, breaking the deal with Hades; she does not simply disappear but rather is heartbreakingly compelled to return, turning her back on Orpheus and retracing her steps, slowly leaving him as she walks towards her second death.

This play focuses a lot on words, and the power of words and memory. The stones urge the dead to “speak the language of stones”; words from our world such as “father” and “love” and our loved ones’ names cannot be translated except as abstract concepts, evocations of feelings. Love is “the shade of a tree on a hot day” and the first syllable of “Orpheus” triggers pains in Eurydice that she cannot comprehend. This production goes past the moment of Eurydice’s second death, and shows us a tragic string of events that follow in its aftermath, and is one of the most hauntingly, beautifully tragic productions I’ve yet seen at the Fringe. Go and see it if you can – it’s different, and perfectly crafted, and powerful.


Kirsty Morrissey

at 10:42 on 8th Aug 2012



UCLU Runaground use physical theatre, puppetry and dance to offer a fresh perspective on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with great success. While the myth traditionally focuses on Orpheus’ attempts to rescue Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl’s script shifts the focus to his dead wife and her struggles in the afterlife.

First introduced in the young couples’ idyllic opening beach scene, the importance of being interesting is a recurring motif in the play, with characters continually judging each other on this criterion. Their own play would certainly pass the test as this concern of being interesting is demonstrated in the range of thought-provoking ideas it presents to its audience. One key concept is that in the afterworld certain notions (including family, music and love) are removed from the language of dead. Initially it seems out of cruelty but, in one of many intellectual turns, it is ultimately because “it’s a long time to be sad”. As a result Eurydice’s father attempts to re-educate his daughter explaining himself through the image of a tree and love as sitting in the shade, sitting in the shade without your clothes.

The stage is split between the world of the living and the dead with a door frame connecting them. This minimalist stage is dominated by the Fringe staple of a raised wire with wooden pegs attached. However by giving it a specific purpose, as the means of passing letters between the two realms, the production reclaims this over-used stage tool as its own, just as it did with its widely-used source material.

Crucial to the show’s success are the excellent performances of the four leads, with especially strong leadership from Melissa Taylor who handles the comic and emotional aspects of Eurydice’s journey with equal intelligence. Tim Mac also deserves special mention for his turn as Eurydice’s father: it can be difficult to achieve generations within a uniformly young cast but he brings to the stage a world weary air which works brilliantly with Taylor’s youthful energy. However, it is the three stones who steal the show with their gleeful malice and perfect comic timing.

The weakness of the play lies in the dancers, whose execution is not strong enough to overcome the dubious nature of their role. Their bandit-style make-up gives them a farcical air, and in an early comic routine this works to their advantage, garnering some audience laughs. However they fall flat in their attempts at genuine expression, and when demonstrating Orpheus’ transition into the afterlife they slip into the clichés of mediocre physical theatre. It seems all the more incongruous because in all other aspects this is production is far from mediocre. UCLU Runaground have brought perfectly detailed direction and energetic performances to a brilliant script, resulting in one of the best myth retellings of this year’s Fringe.


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