by Euripides new version by Mike Poulton.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M To 5 December 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 27 November 4pm.
BSL Signed 3 Dec.
Post-show Discussion 2 Dec.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 November.
Total theatre in–the-round at close quarters.
As director Braham Murray (who conceived this production along with choreographer Mark Bruce) notes in the programme, Greek gods can be hard to understand. They are supernatural in a secular age, and – it could be added – not at all like the Jewish or Christian God. Murray suggests regarding them, as many do the Good and Evil Angels in this autumn’s opening Exchange show Dr Faustus, as aspects of human personality.
That leaves the question of how to produce ancient tragedy in an age of realism. While the Exchange’s open circular stage offers a great temptation, its intimacy is unlike the remote stage of ancient Greece, where people sat on Festival days.
What has resulted is a kind of scaled-down ritual that acknowledges the group nature of the chorus and the tragedy’s incorporation of music of dance and song. And this play, contrasting the supernatural and the real, points-up the stylistic matter.
Pentheus, the king, is scooped by Dionysus, the god. Modern sensibilities may not appreciate Dionysus attacking Pentheus for refusing to worship him – unless seeing it as an over-riding compulsion overcoming conscious denial. (There’s something too of the Malvolio/Feste contrast between these two).
But it’s Dionysus – first heard as a booming voice, then seen in wild attire – who ends speaking moderately as he’s seen walking in comparatively sober modern dress, whether as victor, or as some kind of composite between two extremes.
Well as Jotham Annan handles the god, it’s Sam Alexander’s Pentheus who holds most of the dramatic tension, his scepticism giving way to curiosity about the bacchic rituals being performed outside his city. His visit to them, outside his territory and his comfort zone, in female disguise, is more marked than the earlier confidence and freeing from captivity with which Euripides shows his god’s power.
The measured male storytelling of John Kirk and Terence Wilton contrasts wild female choric movement, distinguished by Penny Layden’s finely-gradated emotion and the slightly effortful wildness of Pentheus’ mother (Eve Polycarpou, who was outstanding here last year in Palace of the End). If not entirely unmissable, this Bacchae is still worth seeing.
Dionysus: Jotham Annan.
Tiresias: Colin Prockter.
Cadmus: Wyllie Longmore.
Pentheus: Sam Alexander.
Soldier/Herdsman: John Kirk
Soldier/Messenger: Terence Wilton.
Agave: Eve Polycarpou.
Followers of the Cult of Dionysus:
– Leader: Penny Layden.
– Dancers: Charlotte Broom, Laura Caldow, Joanne Fong, Carline Hotchkiss, Elizabeth Mischler, Ino Riga.
– Singer: Hazel Holder.
– Musicians: Margit van der Zwan, Adriana Daza Uhia, Polly McMillan.
Director: Braham Murray.
Designer: Louise Anne Wilson.
Lighting: Chris Davey.
Sound: Steve Brown.
Music: Akintayo Akinbode.
Choreographer: Mark Bruce.
Assistant director: Andy Rogers.