There surely aren’t many celebrity librettists, but comedian, impressionist and recent Strictly Come Dancing contestant Rory Bremner seems to be something of an exception. Being in the midst of a mini Strictly reunion offered some interesting eavesdropping opportunities (Nancy ‘Professional Italian Siren’ Dell’olio: I’m doing a new column for The Sun. Rory Bremner: Are they going to pay you, or just promise not to hack your phone?) and I would love to know what Ms Dell’olio made of Jacques Offenbach’s bubbly satire of pointless celebrities inspired by classical gods behaving badly. This updated production for Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera directed by Oliver Mears and performed by strong singers and capable comedians transposes the action from Second Empire Paris to the present day, and is so silly and over the top that it almost makes Charles Court Opera look buttoned-up.
On a crusade to protect society’s morals is our guide Public Opinion (Máire Flavin), a Mary Whitehouse-type clad in a tabloid-print suit with matching handbag, speaking in sugary rhyming couplets like a pantomime narrator. Orpheus (Nicholas Sharratt), a ‘posho’ celebrity violinist (as far as I know, classical musicians aren’t usually fodder for gossip mongers – Katherine Jenkins doesn’t count) is married to the abrasive Eurydice (Jane Harrington), a botoxed Essex girl hobbling around in a too-tight hot pink mini dress. This vile pair can’t stand each other and Eurydice’s death at the hands of her greasy personal trainer Aristaeus (god of the Underworld Pluto in disguise) comes as a blessed relief until Orpheus has to go to hell to retrieve her as a superinjunction won’t save his reputation.
The gods hang out in the swanky Olympus bar with a panoramic view of London where, chiding Brendan Collins’s booming pin-striped Jupiter for being “such a bloody hypocrite”, are the long-suffering and statuesque Juno (Olivia Ray), who has something of Mrs Thatcher about her; a worse-for-wear Venus (Marie Claire Breen) who takes her job as goddess of love very seriously, “spending all night making love like that bloke who used to be Prime Minister of Italy”; and the Sloaney, horsy Diana (Daire Halpin), who doesn’t know that foxhunting has been banned. To regain favour, Jupiter promises everyone an exciting trip to hell.
After the interval, any kind of (exaggeratedly) recognisable context is abandoned and the show launches into full-on surrealist kitsch, including Eurydice’s seduction by a fly in a leather tunic and plastic wings. Pluto’s den of depravity is a lap dancing club culminating in an infernal knees-up with the can-can (extremely racy when first danced) performed in various states of undress, in which even Ms Public Opinion can’t cling on to her morals any longer.
This isn’t cutting edge satire (something that references current affairs isn’t automatically funny) and it would need to be constantly refreshed for many of the references not to become immediately dated. Most amusing are the verbal gags when speculating about the headlines that Orpheus and Eurydice’s split will inspire (“Orpheus and you’re-rid-of-me”). Having no prior knowledge of the piece, I found it jolly enough to be something of an operatic guilty pleasure, a kind of Made In Hades meets The Only Way Is Mount Olympus.
Orpheus in the Underworld plays at the Young Vic (Maria Studio) until 10 December. For more information and tickets, please visit the website.