I have found myself recently using the term "post-student theatre" to denote that aspect of the fringe which is strapped for budget, limited in ambition and serves primarily to maintain the working profiles of those involved and keep their CVs ticking over. Simon Godwin's Straydogs company is post-student in a strictly historical sense – Godwin and his primary associates in both the cast and the production team having graduated from Cambridge in the past three years or so – but decidedly not in terms of any paucity either of ambition or achievement.
Anouilh's play relocates the Orpheus myth in provincial southern France in the 1930s. In a station buffet Orpheus, a busking violinist, meets and falls instantly in amour fou with Eurydice, an actress in what Ken Campbell would call a "repertattery" company; deserting their father and mother respectively, they flee to a cheap hotel room, from which Eurydice disappears and is soon revealed to have died. The mysterious stranger who has been shadowing them offers Orpheus the chance of reunion on the familiar condition that he not look Eurydice in the face until morning; he does so, loses her again, and is again offered the opportunity of the ultimate reunion, in death; he takes it.
So far, so conventional. But Eurydice causes the suicide of one former lover when she takes off with Orpheus, and leaves him in order to avoid confrontation with another; Orpheus deliberately gazes on the restored Eurydice to save her, as he sees it, from a life of squalid banality; before her return to the darkness, the pair are joined by numerous shades of the living and the dead to debate Eurydice's worth and her destiny. If Anouilh's narrative line is more or less as straight as those of his classical antecedents, he skilfully updates the moral complexity in order to pit notions of fate and destiny against the obstinate irreducibility of human nature.
The play is, after all, entitled Eurydice rather than Orpheus, and Godwin, Rosanna Lowe and Ian Targett all understand that this is where its centre lies. Targett's Orpheus is engaging and natural, but it is the warm, organic fluidity of Lowe's performance as Eurydice which informs the production. However many supernatural worlds the action may straddle, the picture before us is one of ordinary, loose-ended humanity. Agnes Treplin's design transforms BAC's Studio One space with use of décor rather than props, and the young cast blend seamlessly with older stagers such as the delightfully scene-stealing Edward de Souza as Orpheus's comically doddering father. It may be too early to start lauding Godwin as one of the Next Big Things in direction, but I shall certainly think twice before using the term "post-student" so dismissively again.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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