‘Orpheus’ retelling a hit

Casey Jay Andrews performs in one of the first productions of Eurydice in Adelaide. Photos: Supplied
Casey Jay Andrews performs in one of the first productions of Eurydice in Adelaide. Photos: Supplied
Last night, Dunedin’s annual Fringe Festival launched its programme of funny, wacky, creative and serious productions and events which will hit the city in March, including the New Zealand premiere of Eurydice. Rebecca Fox talks to its creators.

When they were growing up in rural north Yorkshire, there were no theatres and no real theatre-going culture, so Alex Wright and Phil Grainger decided to make works that could play in the places where their community gathered — pubs, halls, gardens and houses.

That is where Orpheus, a non-traditional retelling of the Greek myth that won ‘‘Best in Fringe’’ at last year’s festival, came from.

Eurydice is the other side to Orpheus, a story about being a daily super hero and not giving in to the stories people tell themselves.

The idea and style of both productions have come out of growing up together in rural areas.

Grainger and Wright went to school together and have been playing in bands together since they were 14.

The crew (from left) Alex Wright, Eurydice premiere season performers Serena Manteghi and Casey...
The crew (from left) Alex Wright, Eurydice premiere season performers Serena Manteghi and Casey Jay Andrews and Phil Grainger.
After finishing school, Grainger started working as a magician and entertainer while Wright went off to university where he ‘‘pretended’’ to study, but in reality did a lot of theatre.

‘‘We both started our companies pretty early on and its all we’ve done ever since,’’ Wright says.

In recent years, the pair have worked together, this time with Wright directing while Grainger looks after sound design.

‘‘Also, I direct for Phil’s company sometimes, too,’’ Wright said.

‘‘So, more often than not, we’re on a project together.’’

When they decided to make a work that could be played wherever people hung out, they knew they needed to rely on some simple things — a good story, a good relationship with the audience and some good words and music.

They chose a classic because, well, they are classics: ‘‘They’re damn good stories which really connect with people.

‘‘They keep on keeping on and people keep going back to them.

‘‘Orpheus is a story I’ve known and loved since I was a kid and it all centres around music. So the idea of Phil and I making that together felt like a really good fit.’’

Music is a central part of what they do, as people connect with music in a different way to words, Wright says.

‘‘As a group of people in a pub or bar we get music, it lands with us. Phil is a brilliant songwriter and Orpheus is the best songwriter in the world. So it felt like a really sensible fit.’’

The piece came together in just three days and the pair never rehearsed it.

‘‘We both just did our thing. I wrote the words while Phil was playing the guitar, handing him the lyrics as I went. But by some little miracle it worked out and it’s hardly changed since the very first show.’’

The storyline of Orpheus follows Dave, who is in a bar and about to turn 30.

‘‘It’s set in our modern day, among our city streets and dive bars and nights out. [Dave’s] a bloke who sees the world in greyscale, the colour seeped out of his life, until Eurydice walks into a karaoke bar on his 30th birthday and his world changes forever.

‘‘Our version weaves between a modern rewriting and the classic myth — it sits between our world and the mythic.’’

As a storytelling show, they keep it simple with just the storyteller and musician, without sets or costumes.

‘‘We don’t try and show anyone anything. In that way they build it all in their own imagination, from their world and their lives.’’’

They have performed the piece more than 300 times around the world.

‘‘We never dreamt the show would go on this long, and it shows no sign of slowing down. We first booked in six gigs and we thought that would be it.’’

While Eurydice, as a person, features heavily in the Orpheus myth, she does not have a lot of her own story as she is most often defined by her association with Orpheus.

‘‘So we got to invent a lot of her narrative, which was a joy. Trying to dovetail a new modern-day narrative with an ancient myth is maybe challenging, and also a real treat.’’

Having the win at the Adelaide Fringe for the new show was ‘‘overwhelming’’.

‘‘It was a brand-new show, we performed it maybe 12 or 13 times. For it to have such an impact on people in its first run, while we were still getting to grips with the show, was really humbling.’’

Wright believes it is the simplicity and honesty of the shows that appeals.

‘‘There’s no artifice or pretending — it’s a very honest relationship between the performers and the audience, like gathering around a campfire.

‘‘But people inherently understand story and inherently understand music, so working with those key components is a real winner for us.’’

Dunedin Fringe Festival, March 19-29, various venues. www.dunedinfringe.nz

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