JUAN ZOBER DE FRANCISCO and ALICE CARR could have found better sex and booze elsewhere on a Tuesday night, to be honest.
Pembroke New Cellars, 28th February – 3rd March, 9.30pm, £5-6
Directed by Fergus Blair
The Pembroke Players promised “a world of sex, alcohol and violence”. While this was provided, not much else was.
Women bathed in red light lay casually strewn between piles of rubbish and discarded bottles, making for a rich and striking entrance. The music contributed to the sombre mood of foreboding – it was a promising start.
Photographs by Justin Wells
Then Dionysus himself, played by Robbie Aird, emerged from his slumber. With his wild hair and provocatively silky robe, he rocked the “Yes, I’ve just woken up from a three-day orgy, so what?” look. He commanded the stage and the women around him obligingly fawned. We were introduced to the plot and some of the key tensions – boxes were ticked, but with panache from Aird, who thrived in his decadent role.
The women who made up the chorus – the Bacchants – began with a powerful, kinetic presence, but they just didn’t know when to stop. Perhaps the director put so much thought into making them as sexual as possible that he forgot that they also had to act. If anything about their performance was consistent, it was their poor line delivery.
The overplayed sexuality carried on into the next scene, where the orgasmic gasps of the chorus meant it was difficult to catch Teiresias’s performance – not that this was a shame. Performed by Dan Fulvio, Teiresias was most animated when rubbing his crotch against his cane – a performance intended to impart a sense of lust, although the vigour with which this was done suggested something more along the lines of an itchy STI.
So much for sex, now for the booze.
It should be easy for Cambridge students to pretend to be drunk. When the play centres so much around drunkenness, you’d think this is something the actors would have down pat. Unfortunately, James Tiffin would have been better off had he downed half a bottle of Chianti before the play. Perhaps Tiffin and Fulvio could be persuaded to pre-lash before every performance?
Pentheus, played by Jack Oxley, counterbalanced Dionysus well. He spoke with eloquence and conviction, and played the stoic and authoritative politician almost flawlessly. Oxley and Aird delivered, but were let down by the third side to the triangle – Naomi Clothier’s performance of Agave, which was overacted and lacked depth.
The two climaxes were marred. The killing of Pentheus became farcical, as the lustful screams of the chorus jarred with the poorly chosen song. The revelation of Pentheus’ death to Agave was overplayed by Clothier, and underplayed by Tiffin (and no, they didn’t balance out, in spite of our hopes).
Small, elegant details, from the consistently beautiful lighting to the wonderfully gruesome bone-crunch SFX as Dionysus ripped off Pentheus’ head, showed that much thought had gone into the Pembroke Players’ performance of Bacchae – but just not enough, and not in the right places.