15 November 2018
The National Theatre
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating: *****
On any given evening there are some 200 different theatrical productions in London, many of which are worth seeing. Getting round all is impossible, so why then, having seen Hadestown, have I immediately booked more tickets? The reason is quite simple – it is very, very good. For those that remember the impact of first seeing Les Miserables, and the realisation of the power of an innovative musical, this is a production that will have the same impact.
Into a downtown bar in a southern US state walk two young people who instantly fall deeply in love. Orpheus is a talented poet and musician and Eurydice a free spirit who captures his heart. But a love of composing does not put food on the table and, driven by her hunger, Eurydice is drawn into the underworld – to Hadestown, where factory slaves work solely for the benefit of the owner, Hades. No one can escape from Hadestown, apart from Persephone, who is allowed out for the six months of spring and summer on the condition that she always returns. Driven by remorse and love, Orpheus descends into the underworld to find Eurydice and try to persuade Hades to release her, with a tune to melt his heart. Hades agrees – but there are conditions.
Those familiar with Greek myths will know how this story ends, but in Anais Mitchell’s concept album-turned-musical, the myth becomes very current. The analogy with global warming is an obvious one, with the industrialised world becoming Hades, and there is a rage against globalisation as we sell our souls to work in the devil’s factories. For many, thoughts will turn to President Trump as the residents of Hadestown sing of building “a wall to keep us free”. Whether we look for such themes matters less than a story well told by songs of power in a production of the highest quality. As ever, this is helped by the National’s revolving stage of opposing concentric circles, concealing a pit into the depths of the earth which facilitates the move from bar, to quest, to underworld perfectly.
The band is on stage throughout and the strong blues feel created by the piano, base, guitar and trombone combination is ideal for the telling of a dark story by the accomplished singers of a string of killer tunes. Eva Noblezada as Eurydice has the perfect voice and diction for musical theatre (that Miss Saigon and Les Miserables are on her cv is no surprise) and Patrick Page a deep base gravelly voice, worthy of comparison to Tom Waites, along with the stage presence to be Hades. For those who loved the Schuyler sisters in Hamilton, the Fates here are just as good, and throughout the tale is aptly narrated by the world-weary messenger Hermes (Andre De Shields). Reeve Carney’s Orpheus has a style that takes some getting used to but, when asked to deliver a song to captivate a tyrant, he certainly delivers – a testament to his ability and the quality of Mitchell’s song writing.
That I was successful in getting my extra tickets is likely to be because word has yet to get around. Judging by the audience reaction Hadestown will soon be the talk of London town.