Greek influence on theatre is beyond question, but when it comes to the modern musical it’s not something that is explored often. “Hadestown”, performing at the Olivier Theatre at the National, brings together Greek tradition, both in theatre and in mythology, with a blues and folk-influenced soundtrack. Based on a concept album by Anaïs Mitchell, the story follows a love-stricken poet Orpheus (Reeve Carney) follow the beautiful Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) to what is essentially Hell to save her.
The real focus of the show is the cool-as-cucumbers modern re-imaginings of classic Greek Gods and the tone of a (slightly dangerous) jazz bar. Patrick Page plays Hades himself, suited and booted and working the damned for eternity in this factory-like vision of Hell. Granted, his astoundingly deep voice creates a bigger impression than his actual performance, but this musical soars on the charisma of its cast. Andre De Shield could charm the skin off a snake as Hermes, who, fittingly, acts as narrator throughout the show, and Noblezada’s punky, independent Eurydice defies the damsel-in-distress character of the myth and sends shivers down your spine with every line she sings.
Unfortunately, I felt that the show was somewhat dragged down by Carney as Orpheus. His character is a frustratingly self-centred poet who is so blinded by his songwriting that he doesn’t notice when his girlfriend is literally taken to Hell. Persuading an audience to root for such a character is quite an ask, and one that is not helped by Carney’s awe-struck and unconvincing performance. The song he spends so much time writing, one meant to enchant the trees and the birds, sadly underwhelms as well. That said, he and Noblezada have undeniable chemistry. They struck me as a modern (or perhaps ancient) Romeo and Juliet. Sure, the guy is a bit of a Petrarchan arse, and the girl is far more interesting and complex, but the romance and the story is strong enough that you root for them nonetheless.
As for the rest of the songs though, there are a fair few that I found myself humming on the way out, and that I overheard a few of my fellow audience members singing along to under their breath. Like many major musicals “Hadestown” has a loyal following, and they won’t be let down by the performance. There are a couple of disposable or borrowed songs in there (try listening to “When the Chips are Down” without thinking about Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys”), but numbers like the power ballad “Wait for Me” and eerie blues song “Hey, Little Songbird” more than make up for that. It’s also worth noting that, for a musical with the song “Why We Build the Wall” in it, it sidesteps any Trump connection, which could only cheapen it. The cherry on the cake is the ending. Speaking as someone who is largely ignorant of Greek Mythology (shameful, I know) I was shocked by the route it took, that transformed the story from a mere story of trial and triumph into one of human fallibility. Four stars.