Based on Euripides' The Bacchae
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
Three suit-clad men sweep dust into buckets, trapped within a perspex cube. A heartbeat thumps through the air. Behind them, a projection appears first a female uterus, then a pair of bull horns, finally a fusion of both. A pupal form descends, suspended in the air. It pulsates in rythmn to deep electronic beats. Dionysus, the god of intoxication and frenzy, is delivered unto the world.
Its a spine tingling opening: an exhilarating display of theatrical imagination. Although German dance outfit Renegade Theatre never quite reach the same visceral heights in the rest of the performance, Cage is nonetheless a fascinating mutation of Euripides tragedy The Bacchae.
In this urban re-imagining, Thebes becomes a sterile prison, a gleaming dungeon where business men cruise through a never-ending routine of monotony and boredom. All it takes is for Rauf Yasits delightfully animalistic Dionysus to sprinkle a little red wine into their cage, and primeval impulses soon rush to the fore.
Indeed, throughout the production, director Markuss Michalowsi constantly brings together a cunning assimilation of Euripides 2400 year old tale with very 21st century concerns. So much so that as Pentheus Theban comrades (this is an all male production) beat him to death, they simultaneously film the event on a camera-phone and jest about posting the video on the internet. Its a perfect articulation of the inherent savagery underlying our supposedly ordered, civilised world.
What is a shame though is that rhythmically the production never seems to find its full stride. Anyone expecting the infectious b-boying and break dancing of the companys 2007 Edinburgh sell-out show Rumble will be sorely disappointed. This is a much darker, more muted affair. Too muted in fact. Choreographer Lorca Renouxs dance routines effectively echo the ritualistic, rhymic timbre of a tribal dance, but everything seems overly subdued, as if the company is intentionally marking a distance from the exuberance of their previous work. Its unfortunate. Without the anarchic frenzy central to Euripides' vision the production never seems to move out of second gear, and vast swathes of the action are completely lacking in dramatic tension. Still, this is bold and intelligent work. Renegade Theatre have ambition that can only be admired.
Reviewer: John Cardale