Tag Archives: Theatr Clwyd

Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory

Orpheus Descending

Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 16th May 2019



“Every moment between them is overflowing with nuance and tension, with a beautiful unpredictability as to how their relationship will develop”


The stage directions in the plays of the likes of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller are notorious for their length and level of detail – to actors, directors, and designers they can often feel like micromanagement of every aspect from the writer. Tamara Harvey’s production of Orpheus Descending defies the demands of the stage directions by instead having Valentine Hanson’s Uncle Pleasant speak some of them aloud. Amongst an unfocused opening, this comes off as a somewhat baffling choice, but key moments transfigure the function of the directions by weaponising them to make a stern point about the cyclical nature of hatred and fear within small-town communities, creating a rich and layered tapestry that delves directly into the human heart.

The titular Orpheus of Orpheus Descending is Valentine Xavier (Seth Numrich), a guitar-wielding, snakeskin-wearing drifter who has ended up in a small Southern town and is looking for work. Conveniently, Lady Torrance (Hattie Morahan) needs an extra hand at her general store since her husband Jabe (Mark Meadows) has fallen ill and although she’s reticent to employ an outsider, her decision to do so takes both her and Valentine on a passionate and ideological odyssey – albeit one threatened by the animosity from the rest of the town towards Valentine. The play grapples with a lot of hefty themes and ideas, chief among which seemed to be an exploration of outcasts and belonging – the clash of the townspeople who immediately dislike any intrusion into their tight-knit community with the free-spirited and open-minded nature of Valentine exposes the prejudices embedded into society and how can they affect even those who thought they were safe. In many ways, it operates as a microcosm for wider society and – sadly – still bears a lot of relevance today.

There are universally excellent performances on display here – even minor roles like Ian Porter’s Sheriff Talbott and Carrie Quinlan’s Nurse Porter carry a depth and gravitas that enrich the texture of their actions and dialogue. Jemima Rooper also does an incredible job as Carol Cutrere, another outcast whose circumstance and attitude serves as a smart counterpoint to Valentine. However, the abundance of praise must go to Numrich and Morahan as the central pair – the dynamic between the two is like a injection of rocket fuel directly into the bloodstream. Every moment between them is overflowing with nuance and tension, with a beautiful unpredictability as to how their relationship will develop; it’s never anything less than a total joy to watch the two interact.

Harvey’s direction and Jonathan Fensom’s minimalist design keeps the focus firmly on the performances, which is probably for the best given that there are so many – there are thirteen actors in the play, which results in an opening that’s quite chaotic and messy. It makes you wish the creative team had been as bold with presenting the most focused version of the play as they had with the stage directions, because once it does hone in on Valentine and Lady, Orpheus Descending is hauntingly seismic.


Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Johan Persson


Orpheus Descending

Menier Chocolate Factory until 6th July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019


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Review of Sinners Club – 5 Stars


Sinners Club

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 7th December 2017


“she is achingly cool from the moment she rocks up in a leopard print coat and huge sunglasses”


“An eye for an eye I deserve to die” the chilling final words of Ruth Ellis echo through a room lit only by flickering lights as a singer in a feathered cape tails off her belter of a last note. Welcome to ‘The Sinners Club’.

Presented as the live recording of a concept album about Ellis, the last women to be hanged in Britain, ‘The Sinners Club’ is wickedly unconventional with incredible musical performances. Ellis, who shot her unfaithful lover David Blakely in 1955, is embodied by singer-songwriter Lucy Rivers who also wrote the show. As the lead singer of The Bad Mothers she is achingly cool from the moment she rocks up in a leopard print coat and huge sunglasses. Her chemistry with the band members and the rest of the audience is electric and her performance is enrapturing for the entire 90 minutes. The small moments of stand-up like repartee between songs are delightful and her sharp quips get huge laughs. As if this weren’t impressive enough she also plays the guitar, piano and the violin in various musical numbers.

The space has been transformed into a recording studio complete with drinks cart and mismatched rugs. In the corner is a vocal booth from which our feisty singer argues with the recording editor, who exists only as a bodiless voice through the speakers. From this cell-like booth what start as creative difficulties begin to mirror Ellis’ desperate pleas for her lover to be faithful. Photos of Ruth Ellis are illuminated on the wall and recordings of her voice play on a loop at various points, giving the unsettling impression that she is haunting this retelling of her own story.

This is not a straight-forward retelling of Ellis’ life, and the singer weaves details from her own life into musical numbers and vignettes that require the audiences to piece events together. The three-man band supporting this musical endeavour are brilliant at reacting and performing with Rivers without detracting too much attention from her. Their collective energy means that even in sombre moments the pace doesn’t lag. An acoustic country song about Ellis suffering from her lover’s friend’s disdain is a particularly good number performed as the band sits in a circle providing harmonies.

Produced by Gagglebabble, Theatr Clwyd and The Other Room, The Sinners Club was captivating throughout and I was utterly blown away by Lucy Rivers and The Bad Mothers. You won’t leave knowing every detail of Ruth Ellis’ life but the lasting impression of the piece is far more powerful than facts alone.


Reviewed by Ella McCarron

Photography by Kieran Cudlip 



Sinners Club

is at the Soho Theatre until 30th December



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