Volunteer reviewer Lucy went to see Dido’s Bar. She tells us what she thought:
OVADA is a warehouse tucked away in the centre of Oxford. From the outside it’s a carpark. You could easily miss it. But on the 27th October at around 7.15pm, the building sang out like sirens. Loud and enchanting, they beckoned us in like a charmer to its snakes.
The band played on throughout the night like magic. Their notes weaved a spell that kept the captivating world of Dido’s Bar a tantalising reality.
Because we were right in it. I’d only been introduced to OVADA in the last couple of weeks, but in days it had undergone a metamorphosis. The band was centre-stage. The warehouse had transformed into a bar, buzzing with punters, potential and a palpable current that carried us along to a musical beat.
Dido’s Bar was directed by Josephine Burton and written by Hattie Naylor. Inspired by Burton’s encounter with the Kurdish Iranian musician Marouf Majidi (who’s in the band, wooing us) it incorporates his musical journey with the Aeneid. A collaboration between OCM, DASH Arts and imPOSSIBLE Producing, it has raised funds for Asylum UK.
The band was next-level. The night was not quite of this world; and yet, too truly was.
Immersed in Dido’s Bar, it would take a heart of stone to not tap and move to (be moved by) the band. They were The Underworlds and we were somewhere else, balanced on the line that divides the real world from the other. We were in the world of Greek myth, while also planted in our own.
Venus (Priscille Grace) and Juno (Georgina White) were its owners. As Venus (Grace) flirted with us, Juno (White) administered with majesty. Gorgeous and glamorous, they exuded immense power and magnetism. Two sisters, both allies and rivals, dazzling and deceiving the mortals under their control.
The heavenly Dido (Lola May) is one of these. The namesake of their bar, her singing, banter and beauty draw customers in from far and wide. But Dido’s tale is a tragic one. A refugee without asylum, she has no other choice than to put her life in the hands of others.
Through Dido (May), Aeneas (Lahcen Razzougui) and Marco (May), Dido’s Bar explores the obstacles that can stand in the way of asylum, and the poisonous rhetoric that undermines belonging. Procedures around paperwork and permission to stay are arbitrary and confounding. The outlook is often more punitive than comprehending. Those seeking safety in a foreign land are left ever more vulnerable and ever more prey to exploitation and abuse.
Their tales are told with compassion. This modern musical adaptation of Aeneus’ story conveys the inequality of suffering and the futility of powerlessness with grace and grit. It is sobering and hard hitting. The randomness of fate is unpicked. Gods are the age-old perpetrators of most of these, in keeping with a Greek tragedy, but Venus (Grace) and Juno (White) also assume very modern aliases. They are as glamorous as celebrities, with all the weight of authority behind them. Mortals are bent to their will and used according to whim. The lower the status of this person, the easier it is to execute.
Intolerance fans the flames of injustice. A set change takes us into Bar Latinas for Act 2. Although marketed as classier than Dido’s Bar, it is in a state of upheaval. The drama unfolds around us seamlessly as, through the tough and odious Turnus (Tukka Leppanen), themes of nationalism, fascism and domestic abuse are portrayed with venom and veracity.
Our sympathies lie with the mistreated. Dido (May), Anaeus (Razzougui), Marco (May) and Matina (Gemma Barnett) ultimately have our hearts. The malignant Turnus (Leppanen) takes the brunt of our hate (which is perhaps unfair. After all, he’s only mortal) while Venus (Grace) and Juno (White) dupe, dazzle and breed resentment. They pull the ropes, make the smoke and move the mirrors with suave, sadism and sophistication.
Dido’s Bar was an intense, immersive and magical experience. Indulgently compelling and overflowing with empathy, it has everything from irresistible and hypnotic characters to an unfailingly striking and eclectic score. The kisses are erotic, the fight scenes gut wrenching. It is relevant, riveting, real and unreal. And unfortunately if you missed it, the tour is now over.