This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
The concept requires a little time to digest: Django Reinhardt, the great jazz guitarist, stars in the title role of Orpheus set in 1930s Paris. All this takes place in the Great Hall of Battersea Art Centre. However, the show itself is more straightforward. It is essentially a music show loosely linked to the story of Orpheus, the mythological musician with the ability to charm all things with his music. This draws a parallel with the work of Reinhardt who some regard as having a comparable ability to charm. The show charts Orpheus’ love story with Eurydice and his journey to the underworld to find her. The show is a mix of operatic theatrics, Thirties Parisian music hall and silent movie. The music ranges over quite a broad spectrum from Faure’s choral work to Bach and Debussy to jazz guitar pieces from Django Reinhardt and the songs of Edith Piaf, plus pieces composed by the company, Little Bulb Theatre.
This is a co-production with BAC which supported the development of this show through their workshop or “scratch” events over the last two years. The performance style is deliberately idiosyncratic, drawing on the silent film era with the blinking eyes and big makeup. With little gestures such as balletic jeté reduced to little hops, the direction by Alexander Scott carries a lightheartedness throughout. At times it borders on cliché as in scenes of Paris filled with baguettes, berets and the Eiffel Tower, but there is enough humour and sense of fun to carry it off.
The multi-talented cast are first and foremost musicians. They sing, dance and approach the acting parts with gusto. Among the show’s eight musicians, the musical director, Dominic Conway, as Django plays guitar and does a good job emulating Django Reinhardt and performs the acting part adequately. Eugenie Pastor captures the spirit of Piaf when she sings but lacks a certain je ne sais quoi; one more French cliché can only be fitting for the show. The cast is obviously talented but lacks that little magic that transforms it to greatness. This point applies to the whole show and may be a result of such a long gestation and work-shopping period. It spreads itself too thin with too many ideas such as the layering of an actor playing Django playing Orpheus, different styles of music and the demand on the cast to all sing, dance and play music. But having said that, treating it as an evening of music and light entertainment, it is certainly a joyous and enjoyable night out.