Review: Hadestown (Olivier Theatre, National Theatre)

After almost a decade in development, HADESTOWN has opened at London’s National Theatre with a serious eye on Broadway next year. Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell has rewritten the ancient myth of Orpheus as musical fusing the styles of folk and jazz that gives the score an incredibly unique sound, almost a mix of ONCE and LaChiusa’s THE WILD PARTY.  The music has some gems among it, made better as it is so rare to hear this style in musical theatre.

Rachel Chavkin’s direction has moments of absolute genius. The staging of ‘Wait For Me’ towards the end of the first act and the finale is really moving. At points during the show, the staging is so innovative and well thought out, it is a shame when other moments look to fall flat. The issue is that you go from one end of the spectrum to the other, unfortunately making parts of the show visually dull. I can honestly admit that despite this, moments in the staging and choreography are some of the best you’ll genuinely see on a stage anywhere.

One of the best things about this show is it’s setting. Set in a kind of New Orleans-esque speakeasy with a live-band onstage, the Greek myth is moved to depression-era America, where some of its themes absolutely resonate today. The act-one closer ‘Why We Build the Wall’ draws easy ties to Trump, making the piece seem reactionary. This makes it more surprising to learn that the song was actually released years before the current President’s rise.

The cast for the show were uniformly excellent. Eve Noblezada as Eurydice has a voice like pure gold. She provided a beautiful highlight in the first act with ‘All I’ve Ever Known’ accompanied in this moment with beautiful staging. Amber Grey features as Persephone, having been involved with the musical since its inception. Her voice and characterisation is incredible, switching from funny to heartbreaking in a blink. The show is cleverly compered by André de Shields’ Hermes (the messenger) who has a cool, classic charisma that carries the narrative along.  Patrick Page as Hermes has a bass that can makes the theatre tremble. His performance, all cool menace, holds the audience captive whilst he is onstage. For me, only Reeve Carney’s Orpheus disappointed, although I suspect it may be more to do with the character’s writing which in truth makes his Orpheus come across as slightly corny. That said, l reaffirm his ‘Wait For Me’ in the first act is resoundingly beautiful.

On a more technical side, the lighting design (by Bradley King) is marvellous, and not something I normally take particular note of in shows.  Michael Chorney’s orchestrations, played incredibly by the seven-piece onstage band, are beautiful and incredibly unique. Whilst there is work still to be done on the show, I’d say that these two elements are close to perfect, and should be recognised come award time.

Overall, HADESTOWN is very enjoyable. The concept is very very strong and you can see that this is a musical with a lot of artistic credibility, something sorely missing in London’s commercial theatre scene. The score and its arrangement is mainly fantastic, so I believe little has to be addressed there. The London run also presents a rare chance to see a major American musical pre-Broadway, so kudos to the National Theatre for giving the piece a place to develop and be seen. That said, I believe that there is still some work on the production to be done, especially in the staging and book. The moments of theatrical bliss in the show prove that if the piece can consistently reach these highs, it could be among the most beautifully produced musicals of all time.


HADESTOWN runs at London’s National Theatre to 26th January.

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