Orpheus in the Underworld, Young Vic (2/5)


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The Independent Culture

Rory Bremner wishes, as do many of us, that someone would commission a new series of ‘Bremner, Bird, and Fortune’, but meanwhile he’s found a more oblique conduit for his talents.

In ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ Jacques Offenbach aimed his darts at the hypocrisies of Second-Empire Paris: at the invitation of Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera, Bremner has devised a new translation with an ultra-topical range of targets. With Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Silvio Berlusconi, Bremner says he was spoilt for choice in his updating of the priapic Jupiter, while Simon Cowell fitted as the predatory Pluto. And who better than a prominent red-top harpie to incarnate the unctuously meddling Public Opinion?

That’s the peripheral fun. Bremner’s Orpheus and Eurydice, like Offenbach’s, can’t stand each other: all Orpheus wants to do is play his violin, but Eurydice loathes the sound of it, preferring to canoodle with her fitness trainer Aristaeus who is Pluto in disguise. The operetta’s central joke is that Orpheus really does play ravishingly – which is why, when combined with ravishing vocal performances, this airy confection has always drawn the crowd.

The front-drop of Oliver Mears’s production is a giant mock-up of a Hello/OK cover, while Public Opinion – played with whirlwind energy by Maire Flavin – makes clear she’ll employ all the practices currently being exposed by the Leveson inquiry in her noble quest to clean up town. Orpheus (Nicholas Sharratt) is a mincing aesthete, while Eurydice (Jane Harrington) is an Essex girl living her aspirational dream; when Gavan Ring’s Pluto begins enthusiastic copulation with his fitness pupils – ‘Their bodies are free/ Devoted to me/ How good can it be?’ – Bremner’s surprisingly unsubtle libretto is raunchily made flesh. Up on Olympus – a wine-bar overlooking Tower Bridge - the gods are bored and restive, with hilarious outbursts from Daire Halpin’s Diana and Marie Claire Breen’s Venus (the worse for wear after some divine bunga-bunga); Brendan Collins’s roly-poly Jupiter is a nifty creation. Hell is a pole-dancing club where we end with the can-can.

This work’s bewitching charm was never going to take wing when supported, as here, by just a piano plus an off-stage violin. But crude direction - plus a script that ran out of ideas half way through - made one glad to escape, despite the heroic efforts of the singers.