Battersea Arts Centre ~ Friday 9th May 2014
Greek mythology and Parisian Hot Jazz collide in Little Bulb’s high-energy, deliberately over-the top Orpheus.
Dominic Conway plays virtuoso gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt who in turn plays the legendary musical genius Orpheus. Battersea Arts Centre has been transformed into a 1930’s Parisian cabaret venue where candlelit tables are laden with wine and cheese (there’s the normal auditorium at the back for the likes of us in the cheap seats).
Our host for the evening is cabaret chanteuse Yvette Pépin, played by Eugenie Pastor, who later becomes Orpheus’s lover Eurydice. The remainder of the talented Little Bulb company are, for now, a six-piece hot jazz band on drums, clarinet/soprano sax, violin, piano, double bass, piano accordion and vocals, not to mention the two leads’ on guitar and flute.
Soon, though, the land of Greek mythology behind the red velvet curtain is revealed, where Django becomes Orpheus, plucking not his guitar but a cardboard-rendered, gold painted lyre. The musicians, now animals, merrily prance, the Furies dance, the three-headed Cerberus barks and Persephone wails as softly as the white down feathers on her (well, actually his) mask suggest.
Many of these scenes are extremely energetic, silly and played for laughs. The cabaret scenes are lively but slightly less overdone. It is a particular approach to theatre that isn’t concerned with overly technical bells and whistles and is happy with a slightly primary school-ish, home-made feel and huge levels of enthusiasm. For me this left a bit of disconnect with the tragedy of Orpheus. It was just too enthusiastically jolly to do justice to the more poignant and passionate elements.
I can accept the strong possibility that I’m a stick-in-the-mud for not running with Little Bulb’s charm and delight, but for me it felt a bit like mixing a full-bodied Bordeaux with a shot of Ouzo. A good night can be had on both, but by combining them in one glass you may become quickly disorientated and bleary-eyed.
More enjoyable for me was the half hour after the interval, set firmly in the world of chanson and cabaret. Also, technically outside the show itself, the guitar playing and swing dancing in the bar afterwards was a tad less excitable and more palatable for this clearly hardened cynic. Apparently there is more gypsy swing to be found at Le QuecumBar just down the road…délicieux.