13 September 2017

A Song For Ella Grey - Northern Stage


I have to admit, I get a bit intimated when I have to review anything based on Greek or Roman myths. It's not exactly an area I would excel in on Mastermind. It's easy for some of it to go above your head, a bit like a Shakespeare play if you haven't studied it at school.  The critically acclaimed author David Almond has adapted his award-winning novel A Song For Ella Grey based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for the stage, with Lorne Campbell directing and the Young Company bringing the words to life.  


Unless you're up on your Roman mythology, Orpheus and Eurydice is about the fateful love of Orpheus (son of Apollo) and the beautiful Eurydice written by Ovid in 8AD. Quick summary - Apollo gives Orpheus a lyre, who plays with such perfection that everything that heard it was entranced. He falls hopelessly in love with Eurydice (modernised as Ella Grey) and they are blissfully happy for a short time, but during the marriage their is a prediction that it will not last. Eurydice comes to a sticky end. Orpheus, grief-stricken then goes to the Underworld to beg for Eurydice to be brought back to life. They grant his wish but things unfortunately don't turn out too well for the ill-fated couple. 

Almond cleverly brings the the ancient story up-to-date in Newcastle, between the grassy banks and bridges of the Ouseburn and the idyllic sands of Bamburgh beach (where the gang meet Orpheus for the first time). We immediately meet Claire, a sixteen year old incurable romantic who's lifelong friendship with Ella Grey often alludes to another type of relationship. She epitomises any young person about to leave school, and she makes you nostalgic for that time when you felt freedom and anticipation for what's to come, before you get jaded by the world. 

Technology plays a big part in this reinterpretation of a Roman myth
You're immediately struck by the set and the technology involved, rows of cardboard boxes and a large wooden screen onto which is projected the faces of Claire's schoolmates (the chorus), who help her to tell the story and egg her on when she feels like giving up. They're shown in the classroom, on the beach and on the banks near the Cluny, and I really enjoyed the choreography of these scenes, which really takes you back to your teenage years. Often we just see their faces, singing along with their headphones in; when Claire walks in front of the screen the faces are sometimes projected onto her top, which was poetic in its own way. 

I've seen boxes being used to represent people and places in other productions in the past (A Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime) and the technique is put to great use here. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Ella is at home in her kitchen with her parents, having invited Orpheus and Ella to meet her parents (Ella's are too strict). The boxes are used to represent the different characters, and Amy Cameron expertly jumps from box to box, doing away with the need for anyone else on the stage at all. She carries the show brilliantly (I wasn't expecting a one-woman show) at times at one with the technology, never missing a beat interacting with the recorded voices and often using a mobile phone to project herself and the audience onto the big screen. 

Young Company filming at Bamburgh beach
David Almond's imagery is at times just breathtaking, especially the scenes set on the beach and during the sequence set completely in the dark, when Claire tells the story of Orpheus going to the Underworld to try and bring Ella back from the dead. You're in total darkness for over fifteen minutes, surrounded by the sounds of the caves of the Underworld and Claire playing the parts of Orpheus and Hades. It's very disorientating, but probably the best and most creative way to convey the scene.

It's a truly escapist ninety minutes; expect to be completely transported to another world, even with the familiar Newcastle landmarks as a backdrop. A world of teenage joys, yearnings and intensity, deep love and loss and to be honest it felt strange going back to the real adult world where such feelings aren't often as out in the open. I took the train home, and went on Amazon to check out the novel and David Almond's other books. In a world which can often drive us to numb our true feelings, it's important to find books and theatre that opens us back up again. 

Don't miss A Song For Ella Grey at the Northern Stage until Saturday 16th September. Tickets from £10 or call 0191 2305151 to book. 

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