Simon Oats @ Electric Light Hotel (Producers Bar)
7:00pm, Tue 17 Mar 2009
Orpheus is one of the most bare-bones one-man productions you could imagine. It’s one man, his electric guitar, and a story. There’s no set to speak of, lighting is restricted to dimly “on”, and the narrow confines of the Producers Bar make this a very intimate experience.
The story, of course, deals with Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to plead for his recently deceased wife, Eurydice, to return to the land of the living with him. Simon Oats tells the tale whilst strumming, plucking, or even pounding his guitar; his vocalisations are superb, flitting between characters and narration at will. Some are sung, some are spoken – the rapping ferryman, in particular, is brilliant.
But whilst Oats has a strong story to tell, it’s in the telling that Orpheus really shines. Despite his quiet and unassuming approach to the stage, once he strums that first note, once he speaks that first word, Oats is completely engaging. His songs are clever, and the aural soundscapes that surround each character add a beautiful texture. But it’s his eyes that really tell the story – they’re merely warm and comforting when narrating, but light up when there’s a character on show. Because you spend most of the time focussed on his eyes, it somehow makes this a profoundly personal experience; the slow pacing of the story allows Oats to be wonderfully evocative with his storytelling.
It’s a bloody good thing I managed to squeeze this performance in – at the end of the show, Simon announced to the dozen or so people present (including friends and family) that this was to be its final outing, due to lack of patronage (it must have been galling to see that The Advertiser put it on their “recommended” list a few days later). And that’s a massive shame, because Orpheus was a wonderfully satisfying production.
(Luckily I got to give plaudits to Simon in person at another show the following night, and he struck me as being one of the quietest, nicest, most thoughtful people you’d ever want to meet.)