My (admittedly limited) knowledge of the Bacchae stems predominantly from Donna Tarts magnificent novel The Secret History, where a group of college students work themselves into a state of such frenzy that they murder their colleague in a completely unhinged act of emotional excess. This, as well as a rudimentary comprehension of the classics, made me excited to see what Lazarus were planning to do with the tale – particularly given their mission statement of reinventing ancient stories in bold and accessible ways.
Whilst the show certainly held flashes of ingenuity and intricacy, there was, however, some significant flaws in their version. The most immediate was the gargantuan cast of 14 for the small 50-seater venue – crowding the stage with a Greek chorus setting. As a result, rather than appearing carnal and frenetic, the show spent large portions being simply too static and unwieldy. Some of the physical sequences, albeit too few, were entirely suitable to a cast of such a size and created a fantastically enthralling and writhing simulation, but these felt all too sparse to justify such a large ensemble.
The direction from Gavin Harrington-Odedra felt somewhat responsible for this – leaving the actors with swathes of time doing nothing – undermining a lot of dramatic suspense, managing only to ramp up the tension at choice moments – the death of Pentheus being a key example.
The adaptation (also from Harrington-Odreda) also felt slightly clunky in places, marred by internal rhymes that appeared and disappeared at sporadic intervals, resorting sometimes to tropes or echoes of lines from films (though perhaps this reviewer has just watched too many movies recently). All of this meant the actors were often fighting the dialogue to truly forge exciting or memorable characters. The hints at a form of female liberation and gender discussion were certainly interesting embellishments, but never felt fully developed or integrated into the acting.
Indeed the main success (and, in spite of the show thus far, there were some key successes) of the show came from the technical side of proceedings – the lighting design from Stuart Glover saw a wonderful, haze-fuelled environment that evoked the vast land of Thebes, working in tandem with multi-coloured gels and a plethora of emotional aesthetics. When the show truly came alive, it was when the physical sequences and lighting design came together and made the show as nimble as it needed to be.
Whilst the cast were simply too numerous to individually remark upon, some choice standouts were present – especially Stephen Emery’s Pentheus, a constant bureaucratic blur completely at odds with the carnal and liberal sentiments of Dionysius’s followers. Sonja Zobel as Agaue also provided a powerful final scene, dominating a stage space in which she could have easily been swamped by the rest of the cast. The cradling of Pentheus’s severed head in such a maternal fashion was a wonderful directorial touch. This may not be the most powerful version of The Bacchae, and, whilst flawed, still made for a visual spectacle with some emotive physical passages.
Dionysus – Nick Biadon
Pentheus – Stephen Emery
Agaue – Sonja Zobel
Katrine – Lysanne Van Overbeek
Advisor – Jake W Francis
Advisor – Ashley Holman
Advisor – Aidan Valentine
Chorus Leader– RJ Seeley
Chorus 1 – Tamara Camacho
Chorus 2 – Liis Mikk
Chorus 3 – Amy Allen
Chorus 4 – Kenzie Horn
Chorus 5 – Rachel Agustsson
Chorus 6 – Katherine Judkins
Written by Euripides
Adapted and Directed by Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Costume Designed by Sorcha Corcoran
Lighting Design by Stuart Glover
Sound Design by Neil McKeown
Production Manager – Ina Berggren
Stage Manager – Mel Berry
Dramaturge – David Bullen
Assistant Director – John King
Company Photographer – Adam Trigg
Production Graphic Designer – Will Beeston