- Gareth K Vile
- 24 August 2018
This article is from 2018.
Meta-theatricality, a recognition of the artificiality of performance and its use to make a point either about aesthetics or ethics, is a common trope of contemporary theatre. The Bacchanals adopts one of its approaches, by looking at the conditions of the process of making a performance, in this case a rather predictable version of Euripides' The Bacchae. What begins as a character study of actors under financial, social and emotional pressure, with assorted in-jokes, anxieties and ironic comments on preshow behaviour, turns slowly darker until the spirit of Dionysus arrives with appropriately tragic consequences.
The initial strength of the production lies with the convincing naturalism of the script and the ensemble's performance: trivial jealousies and emotional conflicts meander towards supernatural intrusions. A tap gives blood in place of water, a flickering light triggers panic, a decision by the director for the actors to go topless is discussed and reveals the intrinsic exploitation that is compelled by both the need to be paid and further a career. The pressures of a misogynist industry are debated, and the arrival of Dionysus, as in the The Bacchae, is to liberate the women from the arrogant male leader.
The Bacchanals smartly celebrates the message of Dionysius without rehashing classical formalities, getting to the heart of the ecstatic potential of performance and questioning its cultural inhibitions. This is a very smart update of the tragic form, that suggests a dramaturgy not rooted in traditional and male protagonists, but a plural and determinedly feminist focus.
theSpace @ Surgeon's Hall, until 25 Aug, 8.25pm, £12 (£10)