Going from strength to strength without looking back, Blue Roo Theatre rounded out 2016 with an exciting demonstration of their growing creative confidence. Co-produced by Blue Roo and Opera Queensland in an on-going partnership, 'Orpheus and Eurydice' (Artistic Directors: Clark Crystal and Jason Barry-Smith) premiered at the Judith Wright Centre to a packed house (sold out shows in fact) in December 2016. The opera is based on the myth of the legendary musician, Orpheus, who resolves to cross over to the underworld to bring his beloved Eurydice back to the land of the living. Composed by Christoph Gluck and first performed in 1762, the Opera is a favourite still holding it’s own with audiences today.
As Act One begins, it is immediately apparent that there has been some serious attention to production design by one of Brisbane’s best designers, Josh McIntosh and Velvet Pesu for costumes. The simple stage is eerie and atmospheric; blue, dull-glowing pillars create an ambient tomb, the nymphs and the shepherds (the Blue Roo Ensemble) lurk behind as they gather in the shadows near the resting place of Eurydice. Orpheus (Daniel Tomlinson, Louise Dorsman) grieves over her body, bereft and inconsolable. Susan Ellis (Opera Queensland) in a wonderful Glenda the Good Witch inspired contraption (bringing to mind a parade float) soon rolls onto stage – Cupid/Amor gives the despairing Orpheus the rules of the game.
The pillars also serve as a very effective gate to underworld for Act Two. Orpheus attempts to traverse the rivers of Hades (Rooer, Joel Dodemont is great in his first solo role as Charon, The Ferryman), the Furies (memorably played by the Ensemble) heckle and refuse to let Orpheus pass and perhaps the best-ever incarnation of Cerberus to-date, three wheelchair Roos roll onto stage sporting fantastic, woven-cane dog heads hoisted high above them.
The partnership pairs an Opera Queensland voice (Jessica Low, Louise Dorsman) and a Blue Roo actor (Daniel Tomlinson, Liam Maloney, Brigid Coote) to provide the vocal and embodiment of the titular characters and this worked well in the heighten drama of the Opera setting. And in another nod to Crystal’s ability to bring onboard some big names in the Brisbane creative world, Bryan Lucas joined the crew this year to direct the choreography and his magic touch is evident as he harnesses the at-times sporadic energy of the Ensemble members and creates beautiful dances and interesting movement pieces that enrich the story-telling.
Gluck’s opera veers from the original myth as Act Three reaches a close; Orpheus has failed the challenge of bringing Eurydice back to the living world without looking back at her, she dies again in his arms and is lost. Orpheus contemplates suicide but Cupid/Amor steps in (this is really an awesome spectacle as an Ensemble member on each side of Ellis, provide the light flutter of ethereal wings) and decides to bring Eurydice back to life (the original myth ends with Orpheus joining Eurydice in the underworld). Either way, the emotional power of the piece remains strong and with the live accompaniment of the Blue Roo Orchestra the experience is true to the opera format.
It is truly inspirational what Clark Crystal and the Blue Roo supporters have achieved over the last few years but even more remarkable is that Crystal doesn’t seem to say this will do. He is driven to continually push their output up a notch, not only telling the world that disabled people can make theatre but showing that disabled people can make professional, quality productions. Keep your eyes out for the Roos in 2017 by following them on Facebook and get along to share in their story.
If you'd like to hear the original myth, I recommend listening to the Myths & Legends Podcast version - An Eternal Flame
Someone needs to see all the things.