Reviewed: The Bacchae
A play where the human psyche is laid bare and insanity pervades all areas of society, Euripides’ ‘The Bacchae’ is possibly one of the most emotionally exhausting productions I have seen in Durham thus far.
A play where the human psyche is laid bare and insanity pervades all areas of society, Euripides' 'The Bacchae' is possibly one of the most emotionally exhausting productions I have seen in Durham thus far.
The ancient Greek play has been placed within a minimalist set, allowing nothing to distract the audience from the unfolding horror; such a performance space – a bare, in-the-round platform surrounded simply by ivy and torn manuscript – ensures focus on every action on stage whilst adding a timeless feel to the piece.
The directorial staging is an immense feat. Rarely does a performance set in-the-round manage to connect with each member of the audience, but somehow David Knowles (director) and Paul Moss (producer) are able to keep every person utterly enchanted and involved. The imposing atmosphere of Castle's great hall aids the monumental essence of the play and Nower's stark lighting, casts formidable shadows on the walls creating a spectacle which is, at times, frightening to watch.
Personally, I found the scenes of the Bacchae themselves to be some of the most disturbing. Their erotically charged madness is portrayed predominantly through the superb choreography of Sinead Leahy. Whilst they dance and writhe in near perfect unison, their unique characters still shine through, reminding the audience that, though the madness is communal, it is individuals who are afflicted. They work wonderfully together in building frenzy, mirroring one another in their heightening of drama and each should be commended in their choral as well as personal performances.
Emotional resonance was simply abundant within the production; Joe Burke's depiction of Pentheus I found one of the most striking. Utterly dominant as a stage presence, he is menacing but still with undercurrents of vulnerability. A truly marvellous performance which is acted through the eyes as well as the body. Cadmus, beautifully played by Fergus Leathem, is the tender heart of the production, whose wrenching sorrow at the close of the performance was felt by every member of the audience.
As an aural backdrop to the spectacular scenes on stage, Ben Rowarth has devised an incredible merging of the modern and the classic within his composition. The stunning musical execution by both choir and quartet adds an ethereal edge to the production. It elevates the drama even further, propelling the powerful speech of Coryphaeus (Eleanor Paradimos) to new heights. The addition of the atonal in Rowarth's music was a perfect reflection of the dissonance on stage; as the actions on stage became harder to watch, the music became harder to listen to, creating an all-consuming atmosphere of discord.
'The Bacchae' has been magnificently reawakened by Knowles and Moss and their production is breathtaking in every aspect. Each theatrical element encompasses the ancient with modernity, the rational with the insane, precision with the raw. It infiltrates the audience, leaving them wary of ever being wilfully 'drugged with madness', for the tragic aftermath of monstrosity is just too great.