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Orpheus Descending

June 15, 2000 | Donmar Warehouse
Directed by: Nicholas Hytner | Literature: Tennessee Williams | Set Design: Bob Crowley
Val (Stuart Townsend), a young man with a guitar, a questionable past, and undeniable erotic energy, gets a job in the dry goods store run by a middle-aged woman named Lady (Helen Mirren), whose elderly husband is dying. Lady has a past and passions of her own. She finds herself attracted to Val and to the possibility of new life he seems to offer. It is a tempting antidote to her loveless marriage and boring, small-town life. The play describes the awakening of passion, love, and life - as well as its tragic consequences for Val and Lady.
Cast: Helen Mirren (Lady Torrance), Stuart Townsend (Valentine Xavier), Saskia Reeves (Carol Cutrere), Sandra Dickinson (Dolly Hamma), Kristin Marks (Beulah Binnings), Jason Salkey (Pee Wee Binnings), Tom Hunsinger (Dog Hamma), Janet Henfrey (Eva Temple), Anne Ridler (Sister Temple), Ilario Bisi-Pedro (Uncle Pleasant)

Production Photos

Production Notes

Helen Mirren plays Lady Torrance, the desperate married woman snatched from the jaws of hell by Tennessee Williams’ modern-day Orpheus, played by Stuart Townsend. “Orpheus Descending” reunited Mirren with Nicholas Hynter, who directed her to her first Oscar nomination with “The Madness of King George”. “Orpheus Descending” was another success for both of them. The Daily Mail wrote: “Nicholas Hynter unites with Helen Mirren and they produce a mixed but pulsating evening of poetic theatre. Mirren is the most intelligently sensual and beguiling of actresses, and she grows gloriously to her third destiny in a part she was born to play. Everything about this show, beautifully designed by Bob Crowley under a great spreading palm tree that lights up with fire and thunder, is effective but not, Mirren aside, emotionally powerful.”

The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Mirren does her director proud again here. Her Lady firstly shifts subtly from an unsmiling, painfully frustrated spouse dressed in black to matronly earthy warmth as she starts to bond with Val. She then becomes bewitchingly girlishly animated as she pads around the shop in the middle of the night in a cotton nightie, with her hair in a plait, listening to Val’s descriptions of magical azure-winged birds and determining to freshen up the business. The play is occasionally heavy-handed, but is shot through with vivid descriptions of verdant nature in close-up.” The Observer was equal in its praise. “Mirren has spent a lifetime on the stage being gorgeous – not merely physically, but vocally. Ever since as a teenager she played Cleopatra – wheeling her arms around her in despair at Antony’s death, swishing her golden hair like a whip – she’s been sumptuous and expansive. Confronted with Williams’s operatic lushness, she might have been expected to go in for floridity. She does the opposite.”

The praise was concluded by The Daily Mail, attesting Mirren and Hynter to produce “a mixed but pulsating evening of poetic theatre. Mirren is the most intelligently sensual and beguiling of actresses, and she grows gloriously to her third destiny in a part she was born to play.



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