Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic is this week visited by two troubadours—newly arrived from the UK to retell a tale of love and loss, trust and colour, youth and age, spring and winter. In this case, the lyric-poet is Tom Figgins (performing a role written and created by Alexander Wright), and the poet-musician is Phil Grainger. In the true style of the troubadours of old, Figgins and Grainger switch between performing and chatting directly to the audience. So we are quickly warned that Eurydice will die, that if we came to the show because we wanted to hear Bruce Springsteen then there is only one of his songs that evening and, finally, that a knowledge of Greek mythology is not a prerequisite. There is a smattering of Bruce Springsteen (Dancing in the Dark, of course), but most of the music is composed by Grainger. Knowing Greek mythology is neither a help nor hindrance, as this love story is beautifully told.
Also in the style of the traditional troubadours, Figgins and Grainger rely on few props. As the audience walks into the La Boite Studio, a single book and a guitar are on the floor, and the two performers are chatting. But then that is all they really need to create a world of pubs, mates, karaoke bars, new love, hell and a world that can be transformed into vibrant, living colour: words, song, a book and a guitar. And a story about Dave.
The technical touches were light, and worked well. Simple lighting, but we really felt the warmth when the colour came into the room, and into Dave’s life. The space worked well for the sound-levels (make sure you concentrate on the words), and I loved the musical choices as we filed into the room (what’s not to love about a soundtrack that includes “I want you back” and “I’m coming up” as a prelude to a story about trying to bring someone back from hell?).
The switching between performance and chatter is a great way to relax the audience, to build rapport, and to encourage some laughter. The chatter was also used to great effect when Grainger called a mini interval—encouraging the audience to briefly stand up, but not to leave the room. This ‘tension break’ was a great idea, as there were times during the show when the audience was completely spellbound—listening so carefully to the words of the story and song that a pin dropping would have crashed to the ground.
The applause was warm and well-deserved. Having heard the story from Orpheus’ perspective, I’ll just have to make time to see the companion piece (Eurydice) to hear her side of the story.
Verdict: We all need more of such modern troubadours in our lives—or at least, on our stages. One to look out for.
Audience notes: 70 minutes. Seating at the La Boite Studio (Theatre Republic) is on two sides of the space. Don’t worry, you’ll get a great experience from either side, but try to sit in the first four rows if you can. 13+. Consider booking tickets for both Orpheus and the companion piece, Eurydice; conveniently the two shows run concurrently in the same space. The two shows are part of the 2019 Brisbane Festival, 17-21 September 2019 (7:15pm or 9pm—Orpheus timing alternates with Eurydice). Tickets are $20-35 (plus booking fee, note that the Festival uses ‘airline pricing’ for the Show, so select the lowest available price on booking).
The reviewer attended the Tuesday 17 September 2019 performance (7:15pm).
Note: Promotional material for the festival includes pictures of Wright, but the show is performed by Figgins (pictured, promoting Eurydice) and Grainger.