Eurydice, Young Vic, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"We Said We'd Never Look Back" from Salad Days might be the signature tune of Orpheus, if he hadn't had better ones already composed for him by Gluck and Monteverdi, so American playwright Sarah Ruhl is at least wise enough not to mess with the music in her mythical re-write.

Instead, as Osi Okerafor's lyre-man hits the road from Hades, doing that tired old walking-on-the-spot treadmill routine, Ony Uhiara's bright-eyed, girly dryad calls out his name. He loves her, but she loves him more, she's the needy one, and he's lost. But not to the world, only to her.

The odd thing about Bijan Sheibani's precious and irritating production is how little the key points in the story count dramatically in the re-telling.

Orpheus promises his girl the earth, the sea and the sky in the opening euphoric scene. She, though, is a bit of an ungrateful daddy's girl, and Ruhl suggests that this particular dryad's tree was her oak-like pater, who's preceded her to the underworld and is briefly reinstated upstairs for the wedding.

All dolled up in her finery, Eurydice is dragged away from her own party by a nasty seducer; at the top of his tower block, she leans over to look down, then falls. This is a bit more drastic than a snake-bite, but you'd hardly know it. Ruhl dodges behind a screen of thin metaphysical waffle about life, death and values; her reclamation of this famous story doesn't begin to compete with Cocteau's, or Anouilh's.

Geff Francis plays the old boy with an avuncular charm and twinkle, mouthing good advice and weaving a little string house for his girl in the lower darkness. The three stones – played as a chorus of disapproval – are moved to produce their own tears by the pursuant Orpheus. Except that they don't really cry very much, and they look pretty silly when they do.

But not as silly as the Lord of the Underworld (Rhys Rusbatch) in plus fours, who charges Orpheus to walk away and not turn round, planning to keep Eurydice for himself. Instead, it's Eurydice who calls out, happy to stay with her father and address her husband's next wife – through a banal letter sent by worm post – on the subject of tender loving care and dietary provision ("He forgets to eat and he gets cranky").

To 5 June (