EFR - Reviews of Bacchae

Bacchae

Fri 4th – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Emily Lawford

at 13:42 on 27th Aug 2017

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Euripides’s ‘The Bacchae’ is a difficult play to perform well: there’s not much plot, most characters are part of a larger chorus and all the significant scenes happen offstage. But the Oxford-based Flying Pig Theatre Company have managed to produce a version that is both haunting and a delight to watch.

The play’s most important character is Dionysus, Zeus’s rejected son, the god of wine and revelry. Cast out of Mount Olympus, he lives among mortals and leads women into the woods and entice them into orgiastic madness. The Chorus of women dance and contort themselves and play music in sensual, cult-like performances throughout the play. They are captivating to watch – however, I wished perhaps that their movements could develop throughout the piece to make the bloody climax of the play more shocking. It seemed that no one moment seemed more frenzied than another and this detracted from the dramatic effect of the violent denouement of Dionysus’s plan.

The ensemble as a collective were strong, and the actors in the lead parts all seemed fresh and original despite having performed the play for almost a month by the time I watched it – perhaps helped by the fact that the actors playing Dionysus and Pentheus switched every night.

Catriona Bolt, the director, has a clear vision and evidently knows how to manage a large cast of actors all busy onstage. For me, the standout part of the show was the sound, conceived by Jonny Danciger. The whole stage was transformed into an instrument and all the sound was created on stage, completely live, by the actors, using a variety of different surfaces, instruments and adjusted microphones. It gave a sense of magic and mystery to Dionysus’s bewitching cult, and the danger and the allure of his presence felt entirely real.

The play could have benefited from some judicial cutting toward the end. Some of the final scenes of Euripides’s texts are a bit slower and lost some of the dramatic momentum of the play’s opening. But Rosa Garland’s final monstrous devastation as Agave was truly powerful and terrifying, a fitting conclusion to a play that will remain in the audience’s minds for a long time.

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Helena Snider

at 13:44 on 27th Aug 2017

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I have low hopes when I walk into Flying Pig Theatre Company’s production of Euripides’ Greek tragedy, ‘The Bacchae’. The company promises that we’ll see, “Thebes transported to a crumbling Victorian mansion. Imaginatively retold through physical theatre and original music, with cutting edge sound technology, this classical piece is brought to dazzling new life.”

I enjoyed reading Greek classics, but watching them performed is harder; it’s difficult for a play version to grab and hold interest, and evoke the same imaginative power a reader can when absorbed in a dramatic text.

However, one of the merits of this production of ‘The Bacchae’ is its efficiency at relaying information. Running at just over an hour, it’s a condensed version of the play. The backstory is quickly and succinctly dealt with. Dionysus is born because his pregnant mother is struck by a bolt of lightning. The baby is spotted in her ruins and sewn up in Zeus’ thigh, from which he was born a god. He now seeks revenge for his aunts’ mistreatment of his mother and hubris against himself. Dionysos drives the Theban women mad. The play ends with Agave, Pentheus’ mother, holding up her son’s head in triumph but grief as well.

While there was efficiency in the story-telling, some of the directorial decisions meant that it was tricky to feel a strong sense of emotional connection with any of the characters in the play. All dressed in identically in white, with their faces covered in paint, acting in the same well-choreographed and unified way, the performance felt slick but, to an extent lacking in originality and emotional honesty. Extended physical theatre sequences did serve to heighten the dreamlike atmosphere, but again made it difficult to consider the characters as real, conflicted, three-dimensional people; more just as puppets.

Perhaps though, this sense of intertwining and unity amongst the cast is the point. Euripides's exploration of the nature of human existence intertwines man with god, male with female, animal with human, sanity with madness. The point is that the lines are blurred.

The play is sublime and Flying Pig Theatre Company’s taut production does it justice.

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