Review: Hadestown, Lyric Theatre

Hadestown’s return to the UK at the Lyric Theatre more than lives up to expectation in a glorious new production

“We’re gonna sing it again”

It’s been a while to wait for UK audiences to get another taste of Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown after its superlative run at the National Theatre in 2018 which I enjoyed so much I bought tickets for a return visit before I even got home from the first. Its new home on the West End is the Lyric Theatre and the smaller stage there really heightens the intimacy of Rachel Chavkin’s production in a way which I wasn’t expecting, making it feel almost like a chamber musical.

This closeness also amps up the genuine company feel of a show so rooted in the joy of storytelling. Melanie La Barrie – deliciously reinventing what it is to be a silver fox – leads from the front as Hermes, our narrator of the timeless tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, but she’s a democratic champion of all she shares the stage with. Encouraging applause for Tarek Merchant’s onstage band (Daniel Higham’s trombonist a standout), reassuring smiles for the workers as they deliver David Neumann’s kinetic choreo, wary respect for the marvellous malevolence of the vocally intricate Fates.

The result is a superb new lease of life for the show, a triumphant return for a musical that is outrageously tuneful, deeply engaging and desperately romantic as it swells the heart just as much as it breaks it. Grace Hodgett Young and Simon Oskarsson (on for Dónal Finn) are love’s earnest young dream fighting dire poverty and vengeful gods no matter how impossible it seems; Gloria Onitiri and Zachary James are Persephone and Hades, their love story at the other end of scale yet fatefully, inextricably entwined.

There’s not a weak link to be found in the company – James’ basso profundo is a thrill and Onitiri’s deep empathy comes through with her every action. Hodgett Young continues a stellar start to her career after Sunset Boulevard and Oskarsson’s shimmering falsetto is all the more impressive given this was maybe his second show as lead. The close harmonies and snaking arpeggios of the Fates are one of the score’s highlights and delivered by Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne and Ryesha Higgs at this performance, they make you kinda want to be haunted by them too!

Rachel Hauck’s dive bar set slots in well, particularly with its hellish reconfiguration and Bradley King’s lighting work is properly transformative. Overall, this is just top class theatre and for me, a perfect reminder of why I loved it so first time round. The enticing invitation of that opening growl from the trombone, ‘Wait For Me’ remaining one of my all-time favourite musical theatre moments, the sexiness of Michael Krass’ costume design, the list goes on. What are you going to do when the chips are down? Why, book for Hadestown.

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