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Orpheus in the Underworld

Jacques Offenbach, libretto by Ludovic Halévy and later revised by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux in a new translation by Rory Bremner
Young Vic Maria Studio
(2011)

Jane Harrington as Eurydice and Nicholas Sharratt as Orpheus, Orpheus in the Underworld. Credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Putting Rory Bremner and Jacques Offenbach together must have seemed like something of a risk. Judging by the final outcome, whoever played matchmaker spotted kindred spirits, albeit a century and a half apart.

The light chamber operetta co-produced by Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera is perfectly complemented by Bremner's bawdy humour, which updates the action to the sleazy world of WAGS and tabloids with effortless glee.

The opening scene sets the tone as Jane Harrington's brassy Eurydice, a daughter of Essex if ever there was one, exchanges insults with her camp husband, Nicholas Sharratt playing the composer and violinist of the title.

The verbal blows are wounding but soon enough she is in the arms of her duplicitous personal trainer. Gavan Ring in the role of Aristaeus does a reverse Superman becoming wicked Pluto, King of the Underworld to which he takes his tuneful, bridal floozy.

There, the fun really starts as, pursued by heavenly ruler Jupiter and wronged Orpheus, the runaways soon discover that an undercover life is not all that it is cracked up to be.

This is an opportunity for Bremner to move into overdrive with a stream of one-liners about bankers delivered in Scottish brogue by Pluto's hopeless servant Jack Styx, Ross McInroy.

The whole is watched over and moderated by the Mary Whitehouse figure, Public Opinion, who does her best to protect our delicate senses from the Bacchanalia but thankfully fails.

The well-known finale is heralded by the tune that everyone waits for in this operetta, the Can-Can and it lives up to expectations thanks to lively choreography from Anna Morrissey.

Oliver Mears, who ensures an action-packed, colourful production, is well-served by his pianist Ruth Wilkinson and the ten-strong cast, all of whom can act pretty capably in addition to singing to the highest standards. On the vocal front, Soprano Jane Harrington as Eurydice and baritone, Brendan Collins playing Jupiter are particularly memorable.

This is a lovely 2¼ hours as long as you can accept a degree of disrespect for what were anyway disrespectful classical traditions. What Mears and Bremner deliver up instead of a faithful mid-nineteenth century rendition is some great singing and enjoyable comedy poking fun at contemporary values, which can never be a bad combination.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher