The Bacchae

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Millie Haswell

at 02:02 on 16th Aug 2018

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“I mean – Brexit?! Trump?!” – These words are being bandied around in theatres and rehearsal rooms across the country, and they never fail to make my heart sink. “I look around this theatre and I see – madness”. An actor playing an actor playing Dionysus (sorry) explains to us that as liberal theatre goers, we are the perpetrators of this lunacy, as opposed to the Brexit and Trump voters (who, apparently, don’t engage in cultural or intellectual pursuits such as watching plays). The fact that this point contradicts itself is trivial compared to its staggering irrelevance to the production itself, which features many a crop top and strobe-lit dance sequence.

The Bacchae is a play-within-a-play, featuring a power struggle between two actors when their director disappears on opening night. One (called Toby, playing Pentheus) is an aggressive traditionalist promoting togas and Euripides’ original script. There are some amusing moments at his expense, such as when he is bound by the script to go along with Dionysus’ new theatrical ideas, muttering a furious "fuck you" before continuing with the elevated language of the play. Toby’s rival and fellow actor plays Dionysus, who promotes misrule and wants to make theatre accessible and relevant to a modern audience by linking it to current affairs. We are supposed to get on board with the idea that ‘real theatre’ must involve clingy shorts and dance moves straight out of Eurovision, and yet it only seems to confuse the plot even more than the ancient Greek that Toby promotes.

Of course, plays are not merely decorative, and some of the greatest theatre has been prompted by desire for change in the real world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put a political spin on a classical piece. It’s just the preachy, foamy-mouthed tone which makes this performance, at times, unendurable.

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Megan Denny

at 02:22 on 16th Aug 2018

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Mermaids Performing Arts Fund revises Euripides’ Greek tragedy ‘The Bacchae’ to tackle the privilege surrounding theatre - particularly the classics - with some interesting but hit-and-miss results.

Conflict is established and the fourth wall broken before the audience even take their seats, as two actors rush past the queue outside the theatre engaged in a frantic argument. The clash between the central characters (Pentheus, king of Thebes and the goddess Dionysus), is reworked to represent the divide between a traditional approach to classical theatre versus a more accessible direction. The comedic value of the conflict in this relationship is somewhat overused in the play and ends up wearing thin. Still, it ultimately serves to raise the important issue of privilege in the arts, with accessibility emerging triumphant from the final battle.

Some well-choreographed physical theatre enhances the most dramatic moments of the play, supported by striking lighting. This aspect of the performance may be more effective if used sparingly, as it loses significant impact due to its frequent recurrences.

Strong lead performances are responsible for the momentum of the play. Despite this, the plot is chaotic and often difficult to follow. I feel that this is mainly due to my lack of familiarity with the plot of the original ‘Bacchae’, which unfortunately seems to contradict the argument the production makes about ease of access to theatre.

The concept of this reworking of ‘The Bacchae’ is inventive and does succeed in shining a light on accessibility to theatre - an issue which everyone involved in the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, should be particularly aware of. However, it is a shame that the vagueness of the plot often leads to the play feeling disjointed. Ultimately, these weaknesses reduce the impact of the message at the heart of this piece.

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