Some of the least misspent days of my youth were passed attending various burlesque nights in London. These included Madam JoJo’s in Soho, the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and events put on by Prohibition, who specialise in renting private spaces and re-creating the 1920s or La Belle Epoch. These were probably some of the best nights out I ever had and I cannot therefore tell you how much it makes my heart sing to see that this brand of highly camp vintage music hall entertainment is not dead in the slightest, all thanks to Little Bulb and their production of Orpheus-as-told-by-Django-Reinhardt.
Aside from a brief period spent in undergrad Classics seminars, the name Orpheus first brings to my mind Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ The Lyre of Orpheus, an album notable for a fabulous lyric describing the sleeping Eurydice as resembling a “sack of cannon balls”. Little Bulb’s retelling of the myth shares much in common with this album, not least the ironic construction of a merrily-merrily Arcadian paradise of panpipes and forest nymphs set up to then be struck down by melodramatic tragedy.
Eugénie Pastor is our hostess for the evening, doubling as the version of a Greek heroine often found fawning, ringed by ribbons, in portraiture of the late 18th century when looking like Grace no. 2 in a picture of three sisters was all the rage. Her opposite, Dominic Conway playing Django Reinhardt playing Orpheus (it’s all about the double layer of realities here tonight) has a sum total of nil lines, but expresses all he needs to via a series of expertly arched eyebrows and a style best described as ‘lacquered’. However, the show is frequently stolen either by Miriam Gould, Shamira Turner and Clare Beresford as the triplettes de l’antique or by Alexander Scott and Tom Penn as the strong armed stage hands. The former are particularly hilarious in the role of woodland creatures, with Gould maintaining a brilliant performance as a piglet in what has surely been a tough week for our swiney friends and an even tougher one for those going out on stage dressed in pink ears and a curly tail.
Scott and Penn as Apollo and Persephone bring forth audible cheers from the crowd who, buoyed up by Pastor’s patter, could likely be coaxed pretty easily into dancing in the aisles during the second act. It’s surprisingly rare to see a straight up funny play. You know, just a good old fashioned, clapping along, toes tapping, funny play. In fact, funny plays are often so hard to come by ones that do exist are remembered for years afterwards, such as The Victorian in the Wall by Will Adamsdale (makes me giggle just to think of it). At the interval I came out smiling, thinking it was enjoyable but slightly worried as to how they were going to maintain it for the rest of the evening without the joke wearing a bit thin. However, I was proved wrong and a longish musical interlude before returning to the drama proved ideal for stopping the night sailing too close to the Christmas panto wind.
This isn’t high drama. It doesn’t have anything piquant to say about current affairs and it isn’t going to change the world. Or is it? Because for some of us the only thing worth changing is for more laughter.