Agave vs The Lion

Sarah Crockarell adapting The Bacchae by Euripides
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Agave vs The Lion

In Euripides' play, The Bacchae, the god Dionysus possesses Agave and makes her murder her own son. Under the impression she has killed a mountain lion, Agave is convinced she deserves to be celebrated. In Sarah Crockarell’s adaptation, Agave vs The Lion, parallels are drawn with modern-day America where social media gives zealots the divine power to sway listeners and readers towards extremism.

During lockdown, Agave (Ali James) sits alone sketching and listening to the radio on which fundamentalist preachers (voiced by Jay Milton) exploit the COVID pandemic to encourage paranoia and nationalism. Initially, Agave treats the sermons as background noise but gradually the litany of hate begins to have a corrosive effect.

Agave vs The Lion is a challenging play and makes demands of the audience. It is hard to appreciate fully without an awareness of, or research into, the source material before watching. When Agave responds to the radio, the dialogue is lifted from Euripides which does not provide clarity. Sarah Crockarell’s point may be society has slipped back to the days of the Greek Gods where deities treated mortals as pawns in a game. With social media, a single individual (Donald Trump is mentioned by name) can become a focus for discontent and so gain the godlike ability to seduce and persuade people into fanaticism. As Trump’s supporters attempted a cack-handed coup, it is hard to disagree.

Agave vs The Lion is an interesting variation on verbatim theatre. The closing credits list the actual sermons from which the speeches in the play are taken. The fact they include boasts of church ushers packing guns and being willing to take out dissenters goes to show truth is not only stranger than fiction; it is also more frightening.

Ali James gives a slow-burn descent into mental instability. Moving from disregarding the radio to entering a debate with it, she shows signs of gradually losing control. James has a restless presence, not settling as if anxious to take some form of action, but her delivery of the dialogue is based on pride rather than ranting. The signs of instability are not limited to Agave’s speeches—her sketches are replaced by scrawled graffiti on her own limbs as well as on paper. After adopting a do-it-yourself combat outfit, Agave ends up scratched and bloodstained—the source of the blood is not specified, leaving the audience to ponder the extremes to which Agave was pushed.

Agave vs The Lion is a disturbing play and benefits from a degree of preparation before viewing.

Reviewer: David Cunningham