A review by Susy Brett
The ambitious musical adaptation of the 2010 folk opera concept album by Anaïs Mitchell premieres at the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre ahead of a planned 2019 Broadway transfer.
Hadestown is a retelling of the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus’s (Reeve Carney) attempt to rescue lover Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) after she has descended into the underworld. Armed with only his music, Orpheus battles the depths of Hadestown and makes a deal with its King, Hades (Patrick Page), for the safe return of his love. But can it be enough?
The premise is unusual and certainly ambitious. The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is set in a Great Depression-themed post-apocalyptic era and plays with the boundary of being artsy versus entertaining to a mainstream audience. It just about pulls it off.
This is one of the first projects in recent memory to make full use of the Olivier’s enormous stage. Instead of feeling swallowed by it, the Olivier enhances its epic nature. It uses different layers – it contains a balcony and stairs, while the moving centre of the stage spins, raises and falls for various narrative reasons. Despite including a full band on stage at all times, Hadestown never feels cramped. The band becomes as much a part of the setting as the furniture.
Hadestown is really all about the music and even to a complete beginner it is a soundtrack worthy of the fanfare. On stage, it is more of an epic rock concert, especially when the dry ice is filtering down to the lower levels. It is harder to follow than that of the usual West End musical, but it is nonetheless a joy to listen to. The cast are more than worthy of praise in their delivery, with a highlight being Noblezada’s stunning vocals and Page’s spine-chillingly deep growl. The choreography is punchy, with everybody always moving around the stage with purpose. There’s a well-orchestrated snap in every movement, twist and turn.
The costumes bring a lot to Hadestown. Hades emits a Matrix vibe, which is interesting considering the choice he offers Eurydice. Persephone shines in an eccentric Tinkerbell/Bellatrix Lestrange get up, offering her larger-than-life character the prominence she deserves. Eurydice dresses simply, while Orpheus is an indie musician through and through. The best of the lot though is the ensemble, whose worker costumes perfectly capture the spirit of Hadestown.
It is not a perfect production. Despite what it achieves in its creation of an epic atmosphere, some of the individual journeys of the characters seem lacking. It is hard to relate to hero Orpheus, and he spends a large portion of the first act away from the story. Eurydice’s story is devastating, but her absence is noticeable whenever she missing from the main narrative. It means there is an emotional distance between the characters and the audience, particularly if one is not acquainted already with the music. It makes it hard to connect to the narrative, which is already sometimes hard to get one’s head around.
Hadestown is an epic fitting the hype, though it lacks emotional engagement with its audience. I would also suggest familiarity the soundtrack and the myth is a must for the full experience.