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  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Hadestown, Lyric Theatre, 2024
Photo: Marc Brenner

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Anaïs Mitchell’s infernally good musical finally takes up its rightful space in the West End

What a long, strange trip it’s been. Indie-folk musician Anaïs Mitchell’s musical retelling of the Orpheus story began life in the mid-’00s as a lo-fi song cycle, which she gigged around New England before scraping the money together to record it as a critically acclaimed 2010 concept album that featured the likes of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco on guest vocals as the various mythological heroes and villains.

Going through the next 14 years blow-by-blow would be time-consuming, but in short thanks to what I can only describe as THEATRE MAGIC, ‘Hadestown’ is now a full-blown musical directed by the visionary Rachel Chavkin, its success as a show vastly outstripping that of the record.

It played the National Theatre in 2018, on its way to becoming the most unusual Broadway smash of the modern era. And it’s finally come back to us.

Now in a normcore West End theatre, its otherness feels considerably more pronounced than it did at the NT. The howling voodoo brass that accompanies opener ‘Road to Hell’ is like nothing else in Theatreland. Mitchell”s original songs are still there but have mutated and outgrown the original folk palette thanks to the efforts of arrangers Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose. Rachel Hauck’s set – which barely changes – is a New Orleans-style saloon bar, with the cast all dressed like sexy Dustbowl pilgrims. It’s virtually sung through. It is essentially a staged concert, but it’s done with such pulsing musical intensity, physical dynamism and heft of meaning that it never feels like one.

And the staging is an improvement on its NT incarnation: David Neumann’s pneumatic choreography feels more potent, the revolve is brilliantly deployed to create a constant sense of movement, and the Lyric Theatre’s relatively small stage fosters a sense of intimacy lacking at the NT’s yawning Olivier.

So to recap we’re at a bar, that is also Ancient Greece, that is also Depression-era America, that is also the general present, in a show that speaks to the concerns of all these times: tyrants, poverty, lost love. Melanie La Barrie’s silver-waistcoated, Caribbean-accented Hermes serves as bar owner and master of ceremonies, introducing the players, notably Irish actor Dónal Finn’s fey, otherworldly Orpheus and Grace Hodgett Young’s no-nonsense, East Midlands-accented Eurydice. 

And you know the story. The two young lovers two meet cute and fall for each other, but Orpheus’s obsession with creating the perfect song leads him to neglect Euridyce, who turns to Zachary James’s mob boss-like god of the underworld Hades for protection; she is imprisoned in his realm, but might Orpheus be able to rescue her? (No).

It’s a musical of beautiful texture and tone - there is something thrilling about the contrast between rising star Hodgett Young’s flat, cynical vowels - a real switch from her ingénue turn in last year’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ - and ‘Wheel of Time’ man Finn’s ethereal falsetto.

It doesn’t hurt that Mitchell has penned some flat-out brilliant songs like the rumbling ‘Why We Build the Wall’ - an infernally catchy satire on isolationism written years before Trump. But it’s the wall-of-sound arrangements and chemistry between the performers that really power it. In particular, the whole heart-stopping sequence in which Orpheus’s song re-ignites Hades’s love for his troubled party queen wife Persephone (Gloria Onitiri) is remarkable: demonic jazz and heaven-kissed high notes, swooning romance and creeping fear.

If it’s lost something since 2018 then it’s the slightly bonkers, outsidery quality it used to have - Broadway would appear to have ironed out some of Chavkin’s weirder hallmarks, and the sense she’d curated a world class team of weirdos to perform it has definitely diminished. Nonetheless, it’s a long way from normal. A gloriously improbable triumph.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


Event website:
Lyric Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
£15-£68. Runs 2hr 30min

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