When it comes to knowing the ancient Greek nymph Eurydice, it really depends on whom you ask. Virgil pictured her as happily married before getting fatally bitten by a viper. Ovid believed that her tragedy came about from jinxing herself on her wedding day. For Plato, she served little other purpose than as a sacrifice to test her husband Orpheus’s bravery. The fates, and the literary establishment, are clearly against her.
Joanna Crawley’s arch adaptation for the White Label collective breaks away from such accounts. Where we’ve often seen Eurydice die, leaving a bereaved Orpheus to embark into the underworld to rescue her, this contemporary version shows instead a meeting between lovers and their journey into an unhappy marriage.
How does epic love settle into lethargy, you might ask. On one hand, India Mullen’s sharp-tongued Eurydice is a fierce protector of equality and the environment. But Michael-David McKernan’s smooth Orpheus makes his king’s speech with familiar hot air. “I belong entirely to you,” he assures his public, while revelatory video projections (the design agency Algorithm) show the figure in astonishing detail. Such heavy-handed populism and media coverage reminds us of a recent U.S. President’s election campaign.
It’s not hard, however, for a meddling Hades (Barry McKiernan) to stir the pot. Crawley draws Eurydice as self-assured but caustic, mocking the rich-boy-turned-king Orpheus: “Your fantasises must be transcendentally boring.” There’s a sure distance between characters yet Monika Bieniek’s choreography will insist on an intimacy. It doesn’t add up.
Director Lee Wilson’s production isn’t short on devices (there’s also a score by Jane Deasy performed live) but so much of its energy is routed into its atmosphere, making the familiar myth strange, rather than gauging the clarity and temperature of the action. As a result, Mullen and McKernan don’t seem clear on where their characters’ differences blur into an intense romance.
The play’s sensibility, however, is unmistakably feminist as it follows Eurydice and Orpheus trying to solve a disturbing epidemic of female suicides. Throughout, a jagged voiceover observes the action like a computerised chorus, weaving in snatches from Trump, George R. R. Tolkien and even former Abbey Theatre artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail (who told female playwrights “Them the breaks”) into an extremely pitched polemic.
By getting married, Eurydice isn’t just settling for mediocrity; she’s settling for patriarchy. It’s easy, in this furious production, to see where they’re really one and the same.
The Eurydice Project is on until 1st April 2017 at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Click here for more details.