Blue Elephant Theatre 19 April – 7 May. Reviewed By Claire Roderick
Lazarus Theatre Company’s adaptation of Euripide’s tragedy is full of colour and energy.
Seeking revenge upon his mother’s sisters, Agave, Autonoe and Ino, for their lies about his mother and his parentage, Dionysus, son of Zeus, comes to Thebes. The women of the city leave their homes and go up to the mountains and revel in Bacchan rites. Pentheus, King of Thebes and son of Agave, returns and captures Dionysus, disguised as a foreign priest. Pentheus raises an army to defeat the Bacchae, but Dionysus convinces him to infiltrate the Bacchae dressed as a woman.
The production takes Euripides’ plot, gives it a modern twist – with the chorus talking about things like making fried breakfast for my family (except the vegan!), my mam teaching me how to swear – but still manages to feel authentic and not smugly “look what we’ve done to this”.
The use of lighting and music is extremely atmospheric, with deep blood reds for Dionysus and the Bacchae and clinical white for the rational and civilised Pentheus and his advisors. The Bacchae are dressed in white slips and the court in business suits, which are gradually shed as Dionysus’ influence takes hold. Dionysus is the only flash of colour onstage – in shimmering red as he prowls around.
The Bacchae’s chorus are not onlookers, but are the Bacchan horde – watching and moving around the advisors like wolves and vultures. They provide rousing drumbeats with hands and feet and throw heart and soul into their performances, managing to keep their sighs and grunts from appearing ridiculous. Nick Bladon’s Dionysus doesn’t really have much to do after his magnificent entrance – mostly sitting gleefully watching the carnage unfold, or pretending to be mortal. RJ Seeley is hypnotic as the leader of the chorus and Stephen Emery (Pentheus) is suitably stubborn and patronising. Sonja Zobel is almost childlike as Agave, and swings from mad zeal to horror just by changing the rhythm with which she is shaking – fantastic. The production has replaced Cadmus, Agave’s father, with Katrine, Pentheus’ wife (Lysanne Van Overbeek) which works, as the voice of calm reason is so often female, and Van Overbeek delivers her damning opinion of man and gods with steely dignity.
The balance of rationalism and instinct are still relevant today, when people are so willing to cite their rights but shirk their responsibilities, and of course gender equality and sexuality still stir high emotions. So even though this is a very old play by some long dead Greek bloke, it is well worth seeing. A magical modern version of a classic.