reviewed by Neville Cohn
Half a loaf is better than none, as the old saw goes. And experiencing Offenbach’s zany Orpheus in the Underworld to an accompaniment not by orchestra but a single piano might not have been ideal – but it was certainly better than nothing in this part of the world where Offenbach’s work seldom gets the exposure it warrants.
With the lightest of directorial touches, Jane Davidson brought this comic opera to sparkling life. Certainly, her young charges seemed positively to relish coming to grips with this much vaunted although seldom mounted work locally.
It was an inspiration to use an English version of the libretto by Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and Ignatius Jones. With its many witty Oz allusions, it prompted gales of laughter from a capacity audience.
Kathleen How as Public Opinion, dressed up as Moonee Ponds’ most distinguished representative, brought the house down again and again. Here was a Dame Edna Everage clone at her most vivacious and effervescent with her mauve-pink hair do, trademark bunch of fake gladioli and those unforgettably tasteful spectacles, all ensuring the laughter level was high.
On the debit side were a number of singers whose pitch was not quite spot-on but, time and again, the sheer vivacity with which they tackled their roles went quite some way as compensation. And this cheerful energy, not least in the galop finale, ensured a constant chuckle level. And allusions to that most recognisable of Gluck melodies – Che faro senza Euridice – were consistently musical.
Laurels to Daniel Sinfield who seemed positively to revel in the role of Pluto disguised, not, as in Offenbach’s original as a shepherd cum beekeeper but as a black-clad tough on a motorbike, singing and strutting about the stage as if it was his natural milieu. His diction was first rate.
In a smaller role, Dudley Allitt was altogether convincing as the Hades-based, creepy John Styx. With a sepulchral pallor and his hands unctuously clasping and unclasping, he did Offenbach proud – not least for absolutely first rate diction, an object lesson on how to project speech impeccably.
A thousand flowers, as the Chinese say, to Juliet Faulkner who breathed life into a piano reduction of the orchestral score. Surely, she deserved better than being labelled in the printed program solely as repetiteur. The latter would certainly apply to her work as rehearsal pianist – but on stage, she was a pivotal participant in the production.
Standing to one side of the stage close to the piano while giving discreet cues to the cast was music director Francis Greep.
Décor was basic but effective as was the lighting design by Jake Newby – and the splendid costumes were designed and made by the cast.