The world as we know it has ended, the human race is extinct. Devastation has extended beyond this world into the next: Hades, the home of the dead, is fading, along with all its residents. After all, how can stories survive without human minds for them to live in?
Hades Fading is a bilingual production (English and Bahasa Indonesia) created by Bandung based theatre group Mainteater, in collaboration with artists based in Melbourne. It ran for a season in Bandung in August 2019, and had a second season at La Mama Courthouse in Melbourne as part of Asia TOPA 2020.
The show is based on stories from Greek mythology about Hades and in particular, the legend of Eurydice and Orpheus. Eurydice, the main character through whose perspective most of this show is experienced, is in a library in Hades clutching earnestly at whatever she can find in an effort to survive. Her memory has begun to fade, and she must comb through all the books and media around her to revive her sense of identity, and equip herself with whatever might help reverse the effect of fading. Through stories about her origin (she was the daughter of a nymph mother and Apollo), conversations with Persephone (Queen of Hades, who told her about the state of the world and why they were fading), and revisiting the story of her marriage with Orpheus (soon after which she died from a snake bite and arrived in Hades), Eurydice pieces together an understanding of who she is and how she feels about the end of the world and Hades fading.
This show is spectacular on many levels. The set is a metaphor for a separate world, and uses wooden poles and translucent fabric to create a literal fourth wall dividing the stage from the audience. None of the characters ever break out of this prison – except for Orpheus, briefly. Orpheus is the only human character in the play, and is also the only character to have made journeys back and forth between the living world and Hades. There are exquisite, abstract visual graphics that accompany the stories and conversations, projected onto several layers of the translucent fabric that forms the many walls of Hades, which creates a beautiful, layered, magical environment within the play. The lighting design is masterful. The music and soundscape, above all, is a class apart. A variety of delicate vocal effects, and instruments producing traditional-sounding Indonesian melodies, create an authentic and transcendental international interpretation of the classic Greek context of the original stories, and give this show a novel vibe.
The acting performances are consistently captivating. Heliana Sinaga is persuasive as the earnest Eurydice, Wawan Sofwan is comical as the quirky and self-important Orpheus, and Rinrin Candraresmi and Godi Suwarna make a fantastic supporting cast as the couple Persephone and Hades. Candraresmi in particular plays her part with haunting emotional impact – even as someone who does not speak Bahasa Indonesia, I found the words “aku memudar” (I am fading) resonating in my head in her voice.
The bilingual nature of the show is simultaneously brilliant and confusing. The speech of the characters switches back and forth endlessly between English and Bahasa Indonesia, every couple of lines, often with one character speaking in one language and another character responding in the other. Sometimes the language is switched mid-speech. Whatever language is being spoken is accompanied by translation in the other language using surtitles projected artistically onto the walls of Hades. While the projected surtitles certainly help keep up with what’s happening in the story, they do divert the eyes away from the performers and can potentially cause the audience to miss a lot of the play. There’s also a lot happening in terms of themes and story points, a lot of loose ends that aren’t really tied together in any significant way: for example Persephone and Hades’ brief conversation about the God particle, Eurydice’s musing about whether all the stories and belief systems of the world could survive in harmony together without humans in the way, and even the environmental aspect in what caused the world to end in the first place. Each one of those things is worthy of attention, but the show feels like it opens up too many different areas of discussion to be able to really explore any of them in depth.
Overall, though, the show works on many levels, and is at the very least aesthetically delightful. There’s a lot in it that is familiar and also a lot that is unique and refreshing, and has plenty in it to take away and reflect on afterwards.