Review: Bacchae

Rinna Keefe and Ted Loveday 7 November 2013

11pm, Wed 6 to Sat 9 Nov 2013, ADC Theatre

If you’ve ever worried about sleeping through a lateshow, fear not: this week’s Bacchae is full of energy and motion. From the stark scaffolded set to the hypnotic chants of the chorus, this production deserves to pull in the 11pm crowds.

The original tragedy follows the arrival of Dionysus’ drunken devotees and their effects on the city of Thebes. Connie Chapman’s new version moves us to the 2011 London riots, with opportunistic looting, desperate politicians and hyperbolic claims of the civilisation’s collapse. The parallel is effectively drawn, and it is left to us to decide whether the crowd most resembles an ancient cult or a modern urban mob.

If you’re a purist seeking earnest, catharsis-filled spectacle, this isn’t it. It’s a comedy rather than a tragedy, and with Greek religious revelry replaced by modern-day misrule, the approach is more of a parody than a translation of Euripides’ high art. Although some notes ring false, such as the mention of real-life victims’ names, overall the play doesn’t take itself too seriously.

As for the political satire, it’s not particularly original—posh cabinet ministers, austerity, ‘we’re all in this together’—but it’s cheeky and pitched at just the right level. Props here go to Robbie Taylor Hunt’s Pentheus, a familiar caricature of an out-of-touch Prime Minister, and to Julia Kass, a female granny Cadmus, for her Dennis-the-Menace willingness to join in the mischief.

Although this modern translation has robbed the chorus of their poetry, their clownish charm is absolutely the centrepiece of the show. Changing effortlessly between Cabinet stuffed shirts and thuggish balaclavas, they are what give the show its relentless drive. In particular, Tris Hobson and Joe Jukes stand out as charismatic physical actors. Artificial, dance-ified stage movement can be annoying in the wrong hands, but they pull it off.

All this gives it an odd balance between poking fun at politicians and condescending explanations of Greek mythology: perhaps the audience could have been trusted to know that Dionysus was the god of wine. Otherwise, the whole piece has an irreverent and fairly erudite way of playing with the classics. A night of maenadic mayhem.