Ignored and cast out of Olympus, Euripides’ tragedy sees Dionysus, god of wine and debauchery, take his rage and chaotic reckoning to the mortal world. His plan to secure status amongst mortals involves luring repressed women into the woods for weird hunting orgies, losing them in the sounds of acapella bird song, nails scraping the skin of a bongo drum, and hazy purple lighting. The cast, smeared in glitter paint and dressed in scrappy Victorian underwear, paw awkwardly at each other, loll their heads, are attention-grabbing, however, it all feels disjointed and distracting, and somewhat cliche. The Space at Surgeon’s Hall seems too small to contain this lucid dream of a production, too small for any real movement, and yet, the story still manages to get lost.
This adaptation swoons between ham-fisted, stagnant exposition and haunting tribal dances, however struggles with consistency. The tone becomes confusing; stabs at humour during serious scenes of mourning are jarring, almost insensitive, and the rapid pacing removes any sense of tension. However, this could be an issue with the material itself. The Bacchae could be seen as a play which discusses the abuse and use of women, the illusion of freedom, however this production is limited in broader thinking. However, there is a fitting charm to staying close to the Classical material; characters are left as confused as we are, having rattled towards the conclusion without any breathing space to understand what is even going on. Dionysus whirls around, delighting in creating havoc, and the warbling, mad woods are left suddenly silent, and the audience likewise stumble out of the bizarre, and home, reeling, but undeniably intrigued.
It’s chaos, most definitely, but it would be foolish to try and resist it.