The Bacchae

Euripides
Kneehigh Theatre
Salisbury Playhouse
(2004)

Production photograph from The Bacchae

If Kneehigh Theatre's current account of The Bacchae is not 'Eurypides for Beginners', then Emma Rice's touring production is certainly a good way to start!

"Speak English," one player rebukes the lofty Dionysus (a pin-striped Robert Lucskay). "We're in Salisbury tonight!"

Whether it is really necessary for the Truro-based company to go on about "gods up there and mortals down 'ere" is another matter. Yet the earthy approach to a tale that is, even by Ancient Greek standards, bestial, is difficult to resist.

Of course it might explain the evident relish of these players in their Hammer Studios horror, to know that Dionysus was the inspiration of all Drama, without whom no actor would ever have earned a crust! At the same time, this production turns poetry into passion to deliver a piece of theatre that might be shocking were it not for Malcolm Rippeth's subtle lighting.

From the unfolding of the first newspaper wands, born of the '60s improvisational school, a range of theatrical styles are harnessed. There is Shakespearian invention and Victorian pantomime, with a generous input of modern physical theatre for good, or evil, measure. Least evident is much sign of classical Greek form, which might in this case have proved inhibiting.

Bill Mitchell's open scaffold setting allows maximum freedom of action. Characters not urgently required at a particular moment crawl up the scenery or climb ladders. There's even water on tap, presumably lest the company become too involved in their action!

Any Dionysian's looking down might surely envy 21st century license. Which is not to say we shouldn't covet the great spectacle of their original productions, to say nothing of their massive audiences.

The production will be at The Lyric, Hammersmith (2nd-20th November), Hall For Cornwall (23rd - 27th) November and Bristol Old Vic (25th Jan - 12th Feb 2005)

J.D. Atkinson reviewed this production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and David Chadderton at Liverpool Playhouse.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole