Hadestown: The Tragedy We Can't Get Enough Of

When you know a tale ends in tragedy, and still choose to embark upon the journey… that is what love is, and that is what life is. This is what Hadestown teaches us, through a layered narrative, two great love stories, and powerful music.

Hadestown: The Tragedy We Can't Get Enough Of

We begin in a small town that the ‘road to hell’ passes through, plagued by poverty and famine, where a poet believes that he can write the song to bring back Spring. A suave Hermes, played by Melanie La Barrie, narrates the story in song, bringing jazz and joy to the stage. The high energy of the performance is thrilling, the music and trombone enhancing the mood in the room.  

Two love stories run in tandem: the budding romance between the tender-hearted poet Orpheus (Dónal Finn) and the flighty Eurydice (understudy Madeleine Charlemagne); and the startlingly powerful and tumultuous relationship between the dazzling Persephone (Gloria Onitiri) and the imposing figure of Hades (Zachary James). Though we did not spend nearly enough time on the rushed romance of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus’s pain at losing her, as the Greek myth goes, was felt keenly across the room. Orpheus’s song – the song of love that can bring back Spring, and that the Gods had forgotten – was deeply moving, his operatic tones cutting through the room. This was elevated by the alluring and poisonous whispers of the fates, whose songs both entertain and push the plot deeper into tragedy. Hades and Persephone’s push-and-pull relationship was aided by the charisma and powerful vocals of Persephone, and the imposing yet also comedic characterisation of Hades, who played the caricature of the ‘bad guy who is secretly just lonely’.

The cast, however, is much larger that these key players, and at times the number of people on stage seemed to outweigh the size of the stage itself, bringing a clumsy and confined look to dance sequences. In contrast, Orpheus’s walk out of hell was the perfect example of utilising the stage. The eerie glow of lights showing only him in the darkness, the disconcerting rotation of the stage, and the mystical songs of the fates pulled us into Orpheus’s mind, where we experienced his panic and paranoia as though it were our own. On the use of stage, the drama of the stage opening up with blue smoke as Orpheus travels ‘down below’ was a breath-taking moment that silenced the audience. It almost seemed a missed opportunity to not end Act One there, leaving the audience stunned at the staging and drama.

What is perhaps most interesting to consider about Hadestown, is the question of where it is set, and what it represents. On one level, this is merely a tragedy from Greek myths, where Hades rules the underworld, and his confinement of Persephone causes an eternal Winter of sorts. On another level, however, we could be travelling not down the path to hell, but along the railroad tracks of Depression-era-America, where Hades is the boss of an industrial and capitalist town which is building a wall to keep out poverty. This is oddly reminiscent of more recent times, as the show comments on the choices people are forced to make out of necessity, and the deadly wheel of capitalism that keeps people down and trapped. This show is not just one thing, cleverly pulling together tragic love stories, societal commentary, and impressive music and vocal talent. It is both a dramatic tragedy, and a joyful evening out.

Header Image Credit: Marc Brenner


Kashmini Shah

Kashmini Shah Contributor

A Politics and English Literature graduate based in London, working in Publishing. Kashmini has written for Voice Mag and Chortle at the Edinburgh Fringe, and is a winner of the Malorie Blackman Scholarship for Creative Writing, where she works on a fantasy and a crime novel. She likes to write on a variety of topics, from book reviews, to engaging with feminist discourse in the media.

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