Eros and Psyche & Quys and Laila

Reviewer's rating

Eros and Psyche performed at Grimeborn, the innovative and unorthodox opera festival in Dalston, London.

Based on the Greek myth of Eros (Cupid) and his wife Psyche, this performance takes place in the 50’s, long after the myth finishes, when the immortal couple have been married for a long time. Their relationship becomes stale and they start to argue as Psyche becomes a ‘modern woman’ with the help of her charming friend Peggy who provides an exegesis and narration of the story, as well as triggering more conflict between Eros and Psyche.

Clues indicating the time period include a 50’s vacuum cleaner on set, Calita Rainford’s (Peggy) wonderful polka-dotted outfit, and the womanizing Eros looking bored whilst Psyche reads ‘The Second Sex’. Psyche wears a crimson Greek robe but changes halfway, into an outfit more congruous with Eros’s white T-shirt tucked into jeans.

Tom Lowe (Eros) gives a great performance, but special mention must go to Kirsten Morrison (Psyche) who sings brilliantly and looks convincingly bitter as she comes to understand love’s downfalls.

Written by Buffy Sharpe, the libretto is humorous in places, especially the occasional reference to the couple’s immortal nature, for example ‘love goes stale like bread, even eternal bread’. The performance is a work in progress, and the libretto could be improved in certain places where occasionally it falls into cliché.

The hypnotic music, composed also by Kirsten Morrison, is not live but this does not necessarily detract from the performance. The highlight of the performance is a moment of heightened emotional anger expressed through wordless song and humming, reciprocating from Eros to Psyche as though in argument.

Eros and Psycheis short and sweet, but needs more work because it has potential to improve.

After a fifteen minute break to allow for the set-change, Quys and Laila begins, the two protagonists conversing in muttered tones from amongst the audience, where they are revealed by soft lighting.

Often compared to Romeo & Juliet as a tragic love story, Quys and Laila is set in Dubai, and touches upon relevant themes such as social status, wealth and repression. The prevailing theme of patriarchy is expressed through Laila, the daughter of a local ruler, who is prevented from marrying the man she loves, Quys. Instead, her father holds a poetry competition where two old (and very wealthy) men bid for Laila’s hand in marriage. Poignantly, Quys interferes and is banished to the desert and doesn’t return for ten years, and even then the lovers are forbidden from seeing each other.

The story is narrated by Paul Featherstone, who employs a traditional keffiyeh and a business suit on clothes hangers, using them as puppets to represent the two old men who want to marry Laila. This is an original device and works incredibly well, denoting the other suitors as characterless compared to the lovable Quys.

Danyal Dhondy is a one-man orchestra, alternating between piano and violin in a subtle but also moving way, rising to his feet as a scene becomes intense.

Fleur de Bray’s (Laila) aria is enchanting; her vibrato is highly impressive. Her performance in general was realistic, as was Alistair Sutherland’s (Quys), especially when he wanders the desert.

Also a work in progress but highly enjoyable regardless.