EURYDICE, Mad March Hare Theatre Co with Red Line Productions at the Old Fitz Theatre, 15 November-15 December 2018. Photography by Marnya Rothe: above - Ebony Vagulans; below, l-r - Ariadne Sgouros, Vagulans, Megan Wilding, Nicholas Papademetriou and Alex Malone; below again - Vagulans and Jamie Oxenbould
Written in 2003 and predating her Orlando and In The Next Room (both Sydney Theatre Company productions), Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is nevertheless all about her interest in reinvention and re-examination of classic themes or ideas. In the case of the first two, she up-ended Virginia Woolf and Freudian views of women; in this instance it’s the legend made immortal by – take your pick – Ovid, Virgil, Rilke, Gluck etc., except Ruhl tells her story from Eurydice’s point of view rather than of the hero, Orpheus.
Eurydice (Ebony Vagulans) dies on her wedding day and makes her descent to the Underworld via a lift and an invitation from the Lord of the Underworld (Nicholas Papademetriou). She is watched by her already deceased father (Jamie Oxenbould) and mourned by her adoring husband Orpheus (Lincoln Vickery). She can remember nothing of her life, mistaking her father for a hotel porter and being given a hard time by three mean-girls (Alex Malone, Ariadne Sgouros and Megan Wilding) who pop up through trapdoors and tell her to shut up and get on with being dead.
That this is no ordinary retelling of the Greek myth is made clear by The Lord of the Underworld aka Hades who is costumed like Widow Twankey and is simply not a nice person. Similarly the trio – the Stones and nothing to do with Mick and Keef – are equally deviantly garbed, and they are paired with large puppets that they manipulate with little skill or apparent meaning. However, it’s a neat shorthand indication that Things Are Not What They Appear To Be and intermittently comical.
On opening night the presence of a strong cast claque meant lots of raucous laughter in the oddest places and for no discernible reason, although the play is supposed to be an offbeat comedy. But under Claudia Barrie’s direction, the beat is definitely off. Ruhl’s text is often dreamlike and idiosyncratically poetic while also toughly contemporary. It’s a fascinating mix and bears a close listen.
Regardless, Ebony Vagulans is a transcendently radiant Eurydice who, despite having forgotten her previous life, clearly knows exactly why and where she is and gives a nuanced performance. As her father, Jamie Oxenbould’s tenderness as he watches his daughter and as they re-enact their wedding day march, lends a deeply touching melancholy to their interactions.
As Orpheus, the master of the lyre and Eurydice’s great love, Lincoln Vickery has the geeky-streak anti-charm of a grunge or emo muso: perhaps his mother loves him; not sure why Eurydice would. While Nicholas Papademetriou’s Hades-Twankey is a scene-stealer and makes off with every moment he lays his hands on.
There are also moments of great beauty and poignancy, as when father and daughter make their entrance (see above) and also when Eurydice writes a letter of fond advice to Orpheus’s future new wife. But the cast struggles for lift-off on a stage that fights tooth and nail to be anything but lumpen and suffocatingly earthbound.
Isabel Hudson is a talented young designer (2015 NIDA graduate) with a string of successes to her credit. Her costumes for this Eurydice are terrific, but the thinking has gone awry for this set. It’s a raised platform and back wall constructed entirely of unadorned pine planking. there are trap doors in the floor and wall openings (not windows) and the effect is as ethereal as a backyard sauna shed.
Much is added and almost saved by Ben Brockman’s extensive and well thought out lighting, and Ben Pierpoint’s sound design also helps, but it’s a losing battle with the clunky timber and awkward opening and closing of the trap doors and shutters. Speaking of clunky, mention must be made of the self-indulgent “encore” sequence of the Stones and the puppets doing a medley of pop hits. It isn’t interminable, it just feels that way. When Eurydice realises she’s lost her ability to feel emotion she says, “What happiness it would be to cry,” and that’s a fair comment on these 100 minutes.