Orpheus Descending at the Drama Barn

Drama Barn presents their latest production with the lengthy Orpheus Descending this weekend. Upon entering the Drama Barn’s carefully crafted set of a South American dry goods store, the audience is enveloped in obscure shrouds of smoke and promptly plunged into the play’s daunting atmosphere of loss and repression. This disorientation is significantly augmented by the eerie presence of Uncle Pleasant (Chris Casbon), a conjuring man, who, with jarring mouth and bulging eyes, invites you to take a seat with a spasmodic movement of his arm.

Orpheus Descending opened with a fabulously eccentric exchange between Dolly Hamma (Samantha Finaly) and Beulah Binnings (Ellie Bridger) showing the play’s great ability to shift from a tragic moment to extreme, almost idiotic, exuberance. The dialogue was entertaining and the audience was immediately engaged, laughing at the frills and shrills of Beulah and Dolly’s dramatically felt, “mmhms” of assent.

As the events of the play unfolded, gradually bringing us towards the tragic nadir, I was enraptured by the multiplicity of mediums woven into the performance: the burning of cigarettes; the warm, deep sound of Val’s voice (Angus Bower-Brown) accompanied by the melancholic tune of his guitar; the fervent rhapsody of a conjurer emblematic of lost primitivism; the impressive make-up; the emotionally charged lighting. All of these subtle layers, channelled by such confident actors, presented a nuanced performance in which each character’s significance was felt.

EJS Photography
Photo by EJS Photography

Although the show’s length – almost two hours and a half long – may intimidate a potential audience, the performance ran smoothly and was rarely impinged by moments of flatness. Moments of climatic passion, sorrow and humour were subtly and successfully engaged with and the strong chemistry between interacting actors was indisputable in the staging of critically significant scenes, imbued with sexual tension and violence.

Moments of mesmerising reverie, abruptly juxtaposed with the mundaneness of life, encourage a prickling desire for re-birth and renewal

The Drama Barn’s production of Orpheus Descending is outstanding with the professional acting and staging. The moments of mesmerising reverie, abruptly juxtaposed with the mundaneness of life, encourage a prickling desire for re-birth and renewal; a desire to catch a glimpse of the blue-feathered bird mellifluously carried towards greater skies, where he can hide from the harsh realities of life. This is a play with the power to instigate thought, evoke strong emotions and certainly should not be missed.

Orpheus Descending is playing at the Drama Barn from the 9th-11th May.