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BWW Review: HADESTOWN, National Theatre

BWW Review: HADESTOWN, National Theatre"It's an old tale from way back when..." Though in reference to Orpheus and Eurydice, the same could be said of Hadestown. Over a decade in the making, the show has taken various forms from concept album to workshops and now stage productions.

BWW Review: HADESTOWN, National TheatreThe latest incarnation of Anaïs Mitchell's folk musical sees it cross the river to the other side, playing to UK audiences before heading to Broadway. The result: an otherworldly experience with sublime staging.

Some may remember the stories of the Greek Gods from their school days. For those less familiar, Hermes is on hand to guide the audience through the world(s) of the show. There are the lovers in the world above (the poet Orpheus and loner Eurydice), and the once-lovers down below, Hades and Persephone (King and Queen of the underworld). How their paths cross, only the Fates and Hermes can reveal.

Mitchell's music for the piece derives from an early concept album. Along the way, the tone, lyrics and orchestrations have changed in collaboration with Rachel Chavkin. Those familiar with the original cast recording will note stark differences from the off, in particular in "Epic".

The current sound is jazz and blues, with a bit of rock and (dare I say) pop beats interspersed. This mix of styles is reflected in each character. The delicacy of Mitchell's lyrics of the lovers and their promises in "All I've Ever Known" sing out. The bombast of Hades' "I conduct the electric city" is underscored with a deafening pulse and blinding lights.

The National's Olivier theatre is the largest space the show has played to date, seating over 1,000. Early workshops boasted of the intimacy of the piece. Though this is naturally affected, it is not lost. Chavkin makes use of shared lighting to involve the audience and the show cannot help but engage them in call and response beats. Although written before the US elections, one such number is "Why We Build the Wall", speaking loud and clear to today though set against a Post-Depression period.

A band sits on stage throughout, perfectly at home in Rachel Hauck's set: a deserted jazz bar. Traversing between the underworld and the world above, the show could make ample use of the drum revolve and its multiple levels. Instead, Hauck opts for a simple and beautiful use.

Two outer revolves allow characters to travel at different speeds, to get towards (or away from) each other. On one occasion, the distance created highlights the strained relationship between Hades and Persephone; on another, Hades stalks Orpheus like a predator circling its prey.

Some of the most striking visuals in the show come in Orpheus' journey to the underworld. Taking the path less trodden and encountering the Fates, Hauck's staging and Bradley King's lighting work beautifully to create a real sense of danger.

Life and energy pervade the piece, unlike anything else I've encountered. This is largely thanks to David Neumann's choreography. Free and almost unformed up on top, it has a life of its own. Down in Hadestown there with a bunch of stiffs, it's more controlled, precise, everyone breathing and bowing at once. The only time it doesn't quite pay-off is a scene of stylised fighting.

The underworld is Hades' kingdom and the Olivier stage is Patrick Page's. Deep, melodious tones seduce Eurydice and the audience it seems, leaving them hanging on his every word. Every king needs his queen and every God, their Goddess. Fellow original cast member Amber Gray is divine as Persephone. Joy flows through every muscle of her being when she's living it up on top, drunk on happiness (and something else).

Although new to the cast, Eva Noblezada feels like Eurydice incarnated. Her phrasing makes you hear the lines anew, her aching for Orpheus as heartfelt as her drive. Returning to the production, Reeve Carney delivers as a strong but not unshakeable Orpheus, delivering a show stopping 'Wait For Me' though doubts set in later.

The chorus supports the main cast, quite literally at points. Building the world around them, they embody the spirit of the show alongside André De Shields. Setting the tone from the off, he dances around the stage and into audience's hearts. Finally who needs a barber shop quartet, when you've got a jazz trio of powerful women (aka the Fates)?

It's an old song for a new time. Get the hell down to the National and Hadestown.

Hadestown at the National Theatre until 26 January, 2019

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

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