Orpheus

The Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre, 
11 April 2019, Common Room
By Rosheen FitzGerald

An unassuming leather bound book is placed with reverence at the centre of the room. The audience, split in two, face one another across a central aisle. At one end Phil Grainger strums an ornately etched guitar, resplendent in rainbow-patched parachute pants. At the other, Alexander Flanagan-Wright paces in pork-pie hat and green-stockinged feet. The pair trade banter in pre-show patter, light relief before the meat of the performance: a lyrical weave of poetry and song blending Greek tragedy and Bruce Springsteen karaoke in an unparalleled theatrical offering; deceptively simple, heartbreakingly beautiful.

Orpheus reimagines the classical tale, the story of everyman, elevated to the divine by the wonder of love. Our hero, Dave — just turned thirty, body hewn from too many takeaways and pints of lager, nurturing broken childhood dreams and a heart full of unwritten songs — lives in a greyscale world, devoid of colour. Against the backdrop of a power cut in a karaoke bar, Dave, singing Dancing in the Dark a cappella to a room full of people literally dancing in the dark, meets Eurydice and colour floods his world. But conflict comes in the form of Hades who spirits her to the underworld, compelling Dave to brave gods and demons, descending to the depths of hell to retrieve his wife and release the spectrum once more. He succeeds in his heroic trials only to be defeated by his own very human weakness, defying Hades, betraying trust, to turn to face Eurydice at the threshold. In doing so, he condemns her to spend half the year below, taking with her the fresh hues of spring and summer to leave winter in her wake.

Flanagan-Wright’s verbose and explosive spoken word poetry flits from hilarity to the extremes of ecstasy and despair, while Grainger’s original music and rich sweet vocals soar, dripping with feeling. Their evocation of the process of love and loss is almost physically painful, heightened by the manner of traverse staging — we are forced to stare into the faces of our fellow audience members and see our abject emotion mirrored. We are further drawn in by their solicitation of our participation in providing backing vocals — a whispered chorus, an invitation to harmonise. It all comes together to create a piece of theatre that doesn’t so much pull on the heartstrings as plunge a fish hook into the cavity in this chest where a heart was and wrench the blood and viscera onto the floor for all to see. It’s at once really real and magically magic — a fantastical story, expertly told, that shines a light on our basic humanity in all its pain and joy and failings.

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