Imagine if Urinetown and Little Shop of Horrors had a baby while the sounds of Nashville and New Orleans blared into the night, well that’s Hadestown! Spinning the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a post-depression 1920s world provides a fresh perspective and an electric performance. There’s funk, fun and Greco frolics in this highly original, highly stylised production, and what a hell (sorry) of a show!
Billed by Vogue (no less) as “your next theatre obsession,” does Hadestown live up to its hype? Well yes. There are small reservations, but ultimately, yes. At times it is a little hard to hear the actors over the wonderful live music (not really such a negative considering the strength of the band). Also at points, the show can seem rather uneven in strength and pace, but restaging a Greek epic, with country and folk music? Consistency is the least of your worries and again this a minor take away from a production whose creation is almost as interesting as the plot and songs. Crafted from the album of the same name by America singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, this unexpected show still has the spontaneous and genuine spirit that is evident in an experiential musicians approach. Keeping the rhyming poetic nature of the Apollonius of Rhodes classic is not just the songs that land. I would say it isn’t quite at the level of its musical parents (mentioned at the start), but Hadestown is dusting off the century-old layers encasing this mythic tale.
Ok maybe I am a little obsessed (Vogue knows best), but fairly so, this shows soul is worn on its sleeve, which works particularly well as its main theme is a discussion of souls. We follow the doomed story of the lover’s trials in the underworld, also adding in the gripping parallel story of Persephone and her tempestuous husband Hades. This myth is well known and well liked, but Hadestown makes it its own. The music is sumptuous: a full band, wonderful vibes of country and bluegrass music support the plot, this folk operas score is both complex and moving to its core. The fates (think the muses from Hercules but for adults) are a particular favourite! Beautiful music though can be lost without beautiful voices and here with have a smorgasbord of talent and vocal skill. This is no perfect operetta mind you, we have Amber Gray (Persephone) channelling a trapped party girl with the voice of Janis Joplin, Patrick Page (Hades) giving us a rumbling Tom Waits-esc feeling and Eva Noblezada shining with a purity and vocal strength that cuts through the show like a needle. Lastly, we have Reeve Carney warbling like Jeff Buckley with such grace (get it?)! This is really a musical for music lovers and does its best to move away from the happy-clappy style of musicals that taint the world’s perceptions of the genre. A cool musical if there ever was one in keeping with the new set we are seeing at the moment, (all praise Hamilton on high) although again not at that level this gem is a slow burner and hopefully soon will start a fire.
Lastly the ability to contextualise this ancient text is impressive, why do we watch the same stories over and over again? Especially if we know the endings already? This is answered wonderfully and crafting Hades into a blend of Donald Trump with the voice of the plant from Little Shop of Horrors (if you can picture that) works perfectly to ground this show. Although the songs haven’t stayed with me into the following day, the spectacle has the concept and the masterful creation of this fascinating world. The tragedy, heartbreak and injustice of the fight of disadvantaged lovers against the wealthy and cruel. As it’s sung at the very beginning “it’s an old song, it’s a sad song”, but what a song it is. For anyone wanting a brand new type of musical or for the more musically discerning amongst you, come on down to Hadestown, a musical as flammable as it is heartfelt.
Hadestown is playing at The national theatre until 26 January.