A slick piece of cyberpunk with noir flourishes, The Orpheus Project is an atmospheric re-imagining of Kafka’s The Trialcombined with the myth of Orpheus and his quest to bring back Eurydice.
This is a kill shot. A gripping, bold and exciting new work.
The star-crossed lovers in this play are, like Romeo and Juliet, from two houses in feud: opposing forces of politics. In this dystopia, in the not-too-distant future, London has been declared a city-state run by the Corporation, a vast, Orwellian monopoly, where Eliyah’s (Genevieve Dunn) uncle and guardian is a key figure. Johnny O (Noah Young), Eliyah’s celebrity boyfriend, is the son of a noted member of the Union, fighting against the Corporation. Skilfully interwoven is the story of Kasper J, worker bee for the Corporation, model citizen, guileless and about to have his life changed.
The performances by both actors are outstanding. The set, comprising table, chairs and two clothing racks on wheels, is used in unexpected and inventive ways as the actors move in and out of storytelling and into the characters who live in this world. Young transforms his posture, his presence and his voice as he becomes Johnny O: rock star, rebel, self-proclaimed messiah and not quite human. Dunn is variously femme fatale, enforcer and victim.
Director/writer Jonathon Young’s piece recalls the work of William Gibson (Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic), Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World without being derivative. The sound design (by David Hermann with Jonathon Young) with its loops and drones evokes Vangelis, and a later joke in the play about “tears in rain” confirms Bladerunner as a reference point (although the joke is over-explained). The contrast of this music with Glenn Miller big band tunes is incongruous and effective in establishing mood.
The physicality of this show is impressive; the opening dance choreography is sensual and violent, with a meaning that doesn’t become apparent until the end. The piece also incorporates multimedia, which helps establish the reality of the world without becoming overly expositional.
It’s not a play for everyone, but by golly if anyone had ever set out to design a piece with me as a target, incorporating so many of my favourite things (cyberpunk, noir, Glenn Miller, clever storytelling, questions about human brutality and betrayal), this is a kill shot. A gripping, bold and exciting new work.
Now a totalitarian city state, London is riven between the controlling Corporation and the opposition Union. A classic case of dystopian future therefore, where the opposing political loyalties of celebrity couple Jonny O and Eliyah strains their relationship.
Things hit breaking point when Jonny’s father, a Union leader, is unexpectedly murdered by agents of the Corporation. When innocent worker Kasper J then becomes embroiled, the doomed couple descend into dark political depths as society turns in on itself in this mash-up of Orpheus in the Underworld and Kafka’s The Trial.
As the story unfolds, Noah Young and Genevieve Dunne seamlessly assume a gallery of characters, the action enhanced by projections, moody lighting and a driving soundtrack. It is a testament to the duo’s skills pool that they fuse very disparate ends of physical and verbal theatre into a focused work that works equally as a play and as a visual statement.
This promising seedbed has been created by Jonathan Young and David Hermann who, in originating both script and music (Young also directs), have set up parameters for a production where much of the movement is semi-improvised, with the performers also triggering the music and sound loops as they go along. While this is not always apparent, this approach allows for an impressive spontaneity otherwise not possible within such a tightly crafted production.
Genevieve Dunne and Noah Young