Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Orpheus: the Mythical. A Musical by Richard Stilgoe and the Orpheus Centre

I have never been to a musical by a mixed group of performers with and without disabilities, but I did last night: it was magic, and I'm totally bowled over.

Now, recently I have been engaging in some pathetic self-promotion lightly amusing self-deprecation by dropping a few celeb names here and there. In "It's True! I met Rihanna ..."  I said that my life-time total  number of brushes with celebrity is three.

Well, its actually four.

And this time I'm being serious.

I missed Richard Stilgoe from my list.  He wrote the lyrics of Starlight Express, and chunks of Phantom of the Opera, and has done lots of other stuff on stage and radio.  A very witty, very funny guy indeed, and totally brilliant musically.  I do know him a bit, socially.  I don't want to presume too much, but I do know him just a bit.  I can add him to my list.

He's also the father of the brilliant jazz musician, the super-cool Joe Stilgoe.  So I suppose in fact I have actually had five brushes with celebrity.

But enough of that.  What I want to say is not about me, and it's actually important.

In the overall scale of things, the Orpheus Centre is the kind of thing that really matters.

Richard founded The Orpheus Centre, in his former family home in Godstone, Surrey, and he spends a great deal of time with the people who live and work there.  It seems that its a really great place.

Named after Orpheus (the famous Greek musician), the Centre provides residential and domiciliary services and a fantastic learning programme for young adults with a range of disabilities.

It works with them to achieve personal progress through the performing arts.  It supports them to gain confidence and self esteem and learn essential skills that will help the transition into fully independent living.

The Company performs all over the place (including last year at the Royal Opera House), and with other outfits like the Graeae Theatre Company and StopGAP Dance Company, also fabulous.

And they have put together this really wonderful, hilarious and uplifting show, on the theme of Orpheus' and Euridice's adventures in Hades.

Richard wrote the words and the music, and Joe helped with the musical arrangement.  The Director is the very lovely spiky-haired Syd Ralph, and she's done an absolutely fabulous job.  Its a really well-paced show. Also involved are some young actors from the Guildford School of Acting, who were brilliant, and looked as if they were having a total ball, which I learned afterwards that they were.

Seeing as its about the Argonauts, and Orpheus travelled with Jason, Hercules and Theseus, etc. etc. and Apollo, Caliope, Persephone, Mercury and all that crowd could always be put in there in the background, wreaking their havoc, Richard was able to cram almost every known myth into the story.  There were lovely sheep, the three headed dog Cerberus, and a terrific dragon.  There was humour, pathos, and really good dancing and singing, including really lovely wheelchair choreography.

I loved the testosterone-engulfed argonaut sailors, pretty thick the lot of them but filling the theatre with energy, and also the Sirens, softly singing "danger! danger! danger!" while dancing with the greatest possible allure.

It was also crammed with lovely Stilgoe-esque puns: e.g. the Argos being built with parts bought from a huge catalogue, and steered by some-one beating a tom-tom.

(For the non-Brits among you, "Argos" is the name of a chain of stores in UK where nothing is on display: you order from an immense catalogue, and our main GPS navigation system is called "Tom-Tom").

And the Golden Fleece was a traffic warden's yellow fleece jacket, of course.

Not to mention, obviously, the title of the thing.

Matt Lucas introduced it, and did a lovely job.  He told us about his all-time worst heckle, and got the audience to do it en masse, to purge him of the horror, which was a lot of fun.  Others during the week will be Michael Aspel, Penelope Keith, Tim Pigott-Smith and Jane Asher.  And no less that HRH Prince Edward will be there for a Royal Gala one night.

The only, only (tiny) shortcoming is that there was no encore - we had one thumping good tune to end on, but we needed another one even more so to send us off like jet-fueled rockets into the warm summer evening:  I think they just didn't expect to hear the audience in very demanding mood at the end, and so we were frustrated, and left a little more quietly than we might have done, which was a pity.

Never mind.  I still loved it.

So if you are anywhere near Guildford this week, hie ye over to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre.  You won't be sorry you did.

Members of the Orpheus Centre
Performing at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House
London 2009
By Jack Stilgoe Jackstil.  Downloaded from Flickr under creative commons license

Richard StilgoeImage via Wikipedia

Richard Stilgo

And here's a great picture of the whole troupe at Buck House a little while ago.

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