WRITER Alexander Wright and composer Phil Grainger presented Eurydice last summer, first as part of At The Mill’s six nights of six works, then at York Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio festival.
The sister piece to Wright and Grainger’s Orpheus had, however, been shaped on overseas duty by Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews to award-winning success at the Adelaide Fringe in 2019, and it was actor-singer Serena who headed to Stillington last week to reacquaint herself with Eurydice…and a live audience.
For her first stage appearance in a year, she was joined by pantalooned Phil, on electric guitar, occasional humorous interjections and vocals, under the shelter of At The Mill’s bar after the forecast of a deluge forced a late switch of location from the Mill’s open-air theatre.
The rain subsequently did play its part, but only for second-half cameo that complemented rather than ruined the top billing.
“It feels weird calling it a performance. It’s just us chatting,” said Serena, but she was underselling the performance’s combination of formality and informality, and the skills required to deliver its graceful ebb and flow, both in word and song in heightened moments.
In Serena’s hand throughout was a book, Alex’s book, containing both his Orpheus and Eurydice stories. Alex had performed that way too, not because he couldn’t be bothered with learning the lines, but because he loves the feel of the book in which he wrote those lines.
Serena broke off to explain the roots of her following the same performative practice – “a tradition,” she called it – and the book then became more of a comfort blanket, there for her to check a line in case she dried.
Eurydice is a spoken-word show, but one that is theatrical too, given how Serena moved around the café bar and interacted with Phil and his sympathetic, symbiotic guitar, especially when duetting instinctively on songs, whether Phil’s own compositions to Alex’s lyrics or interpretations of apposite Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper numbers.
Wright’s story is billed as a “tale about being a daily superhero and the need to let go of the stories we think define us”, prompted by his realisation that while Orpheus’s underworld story is familiar, we never hear Eurydice’s account, not even one word from her. History, even in myths, puts the ‘his’ into history, rather than telling her story.
Wright rights that wrong, creating Eurydice as her “untold story imagined and reimagined for the modern-day and told from her perspective”. All the more so last Saturday and Sunday, now that Serena was saying those words, while Alex restricted himself to electronica and sound duties to the side of the bar.
At the outset, Eurydice becomes Leni, five years old on the first day of the rest of her life in a one-parent household, when she wants to wear her superhero costume to school. Attentive listening is then required to follow the story’s path because Wright eschews reportage in favour of storytelling language more poetic, more affecting, more rhythmic, more heart-felt, in part torn from his own torrid back-story.
The story may be ancient, but Wright’s interpretation feeds into the modern world in its detail, although it also remains timeless, such is the universality of its themes of love, cheating, flash-flood romance and finally breaking free. “Hold me in a moment made of everything,” is an image we all want to hold, because we know it can only be impermanent.
In Manteghi’s performance, with Grainger a responsive musical radar to her side, Eurydice’s tale of love and loss, a bee tattoo and a bee sting became even more moving, still cathartic for Wright, but now truly Eurydice’s story, told her way.