Clouds Across the Moon
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has spawned many works that have interrogated, or reimagined, the male focused myth from a feminist perspective. Originally a tale in which Orpheus descends into hell to rescue his wife, Eurydice, only to lose her again because he unintentionally looked back, the story has been revised by feminist writers to render Eurydice less passive and to interrogate male privilege. American playwright, Sarah Ruhl’s hugely successful, “Eurydice,” being a case in point, in which the focus shifts from the lovelorn Orpheus to Eurydice’s experiences and her relationship with her father. In Joanna Crawley’s debut play, “The Eurydice Project,” its intention to reimagine Eurydice as a feminist narrative shows a shared affinity with Ruhl’s play. As does “The Eurydice Project’s” love of design. Bravely ambitious and visually beautiful in places, the multi-disciplinary “The Eurydice Project” reaches for the moon. But with too many clouds in the way it doesn’t quite get there, landing instead somewhere among the stars.
In Crawley’s revised version, the wood nymph, Eurydice, meets the returning hero, Orpheus, back home to claim the kingdom of Thrace following his epic journey experience thing. The word hero is used loosely, for Eurydice, if attracted personally, is politically less than impressed with the boy wonder. The corpses of women hanging from trees are evidence that all is not well for the women of Thrace. For women anywhere for that matter. Still, Eurydice decides to marry Orpheus, despite Hades warning, but things don’t go according to plan. In the end, looking back can mean seeing things you didn’t know were there, didn’t necessarily want to know were there. But is there hope in the rising of a new moon?
Featuring live music, projections, and some loosely choregraphed dance sequences to accompany Crawley’s text, “The Eurydice Project” strives to be imaginative, clever and inventive. And it is: it’s just not imaginative, clever or inventive enough. Crawley’s script slips uneasily between almost naturalistic dialogue and segments that feel like a party-political broadcast, or rallying call, on behalf of the militant feminist party of Thrace. Or a lecture in Feminism 101 delivered by an overly zealous academic. This proves off putting in places, with Crawley’s narrative voice dominating her characters and seeming to lecture the audience throughout. Setting an evangelical tone that bears no rebuttal, it can feel as if “The Eurydice Project” is talking at, or down to, its audience. Crawley appears angry, and she's every right to be, but at times it’s difficult to sympathise, or empathise, for it can sound as if hers is the only voice in the room that knows best. Which is a pity, for Crawley has a lot of interesting points to make, with her contemporary cultural criticisms being incredibly perceptive at times.
The richly layered design surrounding “The Eurydice Project” proves to be something of a mixed blessing. Dance sequences, choreographed by Monika Bieniek, work within a limited, and limiting, physical vocabulary that plays far too safe. There are moments of beauty here, and a wonderfully realised sequence where a ritualised duet becomes two haunting and contrasting solos, indicating that so much more was possible. Costume designs by Sarah Foley appear to regularly focus on the fairy tale, with Eurydice looking like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys for much of the time, and with Hades looking like the stereotypical, too cool for school, bad boy devil we've grown accustomed to. Lighting design by Joey (Donuts) Moro, scenic design by Ger Clancy, along with projection design by Algorithm, are much more successful, giving texture and depth throughout. Original music, composed by Jane Deasy, is a joy and a revelation, teasing out hidden depths in Crawley’s complex script. Violinist and bassist Éna Brennan, along with Rachel Níchuinn on electronics, and the excellent Alex Petcu on percussion, perform live onstage, providing “The Eurydice Project” with much of what is best in this production. India Mullen as Eurydice, Michael-David McKernan as Orpheus, and Barry McKiernan as Hades, deliver strong moments on occasion, as does director Lee Wilson, who strives to dispel the clouds that scatter across this ambitious production.
In “The Eurydice Project,” Joanna Crawley seems to vent her spleen at the expense of her script in places. Which is both its strength and its limitation. For while it can be off putting, there’s something compelling in Crawley’s searing, raw honesty. Crawley has spoken of her love of Polish theatre, and of its tradition of provoking political change. Indeed, the legendary, Krakow based director, Thadeusz Kantor, spoke of the need for theatre to “take risks, create, and participate in the process of initiating those changes.” On the evidence of “The Eurydice Project” Crawley wants to head in that direction. She might not be there yet, but she’s certainly off to a promising start.
“The Eurydice Project” by Joanna Crawley, produced by White Label in association with Hugh Farrell, runs at The Project Arts Centre until April 1st.
For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre.