Review - Hadestown at the National Theatre
After almost a decade of development since it was first released as a folk concept album, Anaïs Mitchell’s musical riff on the Orpheus myth Hadestown plunges the National Theatre’s Olivier into the underworld.
Opening with a singsong in a bar – which will inevitably draw comparisons with Once – our narrator Hermes, played by an authoritative André De Shields, who guides us through the story of lovers Orpheus, a friendly punk who rocks a lyre, and Eurydice, who longs for a stable life out of poverty. All Orpheus can offer is a song that will change the world, but it isn’t enough, so Eurydice is tempted by Hades to find solace in the underworld: Hadestown.
For the most part, the cast serve up beautiful renditions of Mitchell’s infectious score and poetic lyrics. It’s hard to believe a chant like “Why We Build The Wall”, led by the man with the deepest voice in the world Patrick Page as Hermes, was written in a pre-Trump world with lines like ‘How does the wall keep us free?/ The wall keeps out the enemy/ And we build the wall to keep us free’.
Eva Noblezada is another standout as the restrained and soulful Eurydice, who sells her soul for the supposed security of the underworld, leaving Orpheus to work on his world-changing melody. Reeve Carney wanders the stage mulling over the lyrics and melody, but sounds more like Bono trying to forge a solo career in the corner of a house party, as he whispers lines like ‘King of diamonds, king of spades/ Hades was king of the kingdom of dirt’. It isn’t until the ensemble join him in a joyous rendition of his sacred melody that we begin to really feel its joyous power.
While Mitchell’s structure is as engaging as it is non-conventional, it is quite lopsided. The central lovers go from girl-rejects-boy to girl-straddling-boy at the drop of a hat, which is something that could have been played out more during a drawn-out first act. Things do gather pace after the interval, as Orpheus makes a deal with Hades to take his girl back above ground, and the story’s end is freshly abrupt and subtle, but underwhelming.
Rachel Hauck’s set expands and closes as we dive into the underworld, and is lit exceptionally by Bradley King who provides Rachel Chavkin’s production with real heightened moments of theatre throughout. Liam Robinson’s band sit on stage, and has a relaxed jazz club vibe to it, one highlight of the show being Brad Webb’s exceptional drum solo.
There’s a lot to like about Hadestown. At times it’s extravagant and unpredictable, and others it’s repetitive. But perhaps the biggest issue is that it lacks heart or a convincing takeaway. There’s not much to make you care about any of the characters, and little feeling behind any of their decisions.
Hadestown tickets are available now.