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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Theatre - The Bacchae - Royal Exchange

Star rating – 7/10

Director Braham Murray puts a modern twist on Euripedes’ ancient Greek tragedy in the latest offering from the Royal Exchange. I am a very big fan of Greek tragedy – the more tragic the better as far as I am concerned.

This is the story of Dionysus, god of wine and religious ecstasy, amongst other things, who returns to his birth place of Thebes and does not take kindly to his place as the son of Zeus being denied, and his rightful inheritance of the crown of Thebes, being taken by his cousin Pentheus. Jotham Annan is striking and impressive as the god Dionysus in his flowing white and golden robes, and wonderful gold tipped hair. His crystal clear voice and powerful projection help to create the image of the vengeful god.

Sam Alexander as Pentheus is also strong. He is arrogant and dismissive of his cousin, whose deity he refuses to acknowledge. And the results are devastating for Pentheus, and for Thebes, as Dionysus wreaks his revenge by entrancing the women to engage in forbidden acts in the forest. So far, so good.

But it is the modern choreography for the female chorus by Mark Bruce that I have a problem with. The attempt to fuse ancient Greek tragedy with modern dance didn’t work for me. The singing and shrieking from the dancing chorus detracted from, rather than added to the power and horror of the play. And Eve Polycarpou as Pentheus’s mother Agave, whose actions while in a state of trance are among the most terrible in any drama, ancient or modern, didn’t quite hit the right note for the part.

The play is around 110 minutes long – which for me is bit too long to sit without an interval. The minimal set design lets the action speak for itself. But the central performances from Alexander and especially from Annan are wonderful, so worth catching if you can stomach the violent story and the modern twist.

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