Dionysus Unbound

Peter Stürm
SplitMoon Theatre production
Bridewell Theatre
(2008)

Possibly a scene from Part 1 of the trilogy?

This is the second of a trilogy of plays about Alexander the Great being developed by SplitMoon. I did not see the first so I cannot comment on how they fit together and since this play is being premiered in isolation I expect it to stand alone.

It pitches us into the story when Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon, has a new wife who is about to have a child, a son who will be a rival to Alexander for the succession. Alexander and his mother Olympias have been exiled. She has gone to her brother's court.

The new play begins with Alexander's sister Cleopatra writhing on the ground calling on her brother. I am not sure whether this is meant to be a conjuring ritual or not but a figure that seems to be the god Dionysus appears, a dagger in his chest placed there, if I heard aright, by King Philip. But is this Dionysus? Or is it Alexander? It seems Alexander thinks he is Dionysus. But neither as writer or director does Peter Stürm seem to be interested in being clearly understood. Two of the actors speak in impenetrable accents. One presumably by intention since there are other lines he says which are clear and comprehensible. Olympias comes from another country, so it makes sense to have her played as a foreigner, except that when she is with her brother in her native land he speaks clear English with no Mollosian accent!

This is a production full of sound and fury - King Philip rages all over the place, then occasionally becomes quietly intimate - passages which, like much of the sometimes rhyming verse in which the play is written, are delivered at almost incomprehensible speed. With a thin house and a playing space open to the bare walls of the theatre there was an acoustic that resonated dramatically but obscured speech even further. Sound and fury signifying .? I haven't a clue, though I did enjoy some physical set-pieces to Greek style music (led by George Tooulis) and an evocative sound score (by Steve Rafter) that were excitingly theatrical.

Publicity promises incest, revenge and war. The incest appears to be between Olympias and her brother; one would expect it to be Olympias who is seeking revenge but, since I could not understand most of what she said, I am not sure, and I never really worked out whether anyone was at war though there were some lively martial-arts manoeuvres.

The play climaxes with a gore-drenched Alexander rising from below with the head of a wolf he has killed (with a jet of semen, if I heard aright) that he believes to have been his father who is present with a bronze shield in front of his face pretending to be Dionysus. Olympias is there too. Are she and Philip reconciled?

We are two thirds of the way through this trilogy and Alexander is still not king. Will the third part be the completion of this family drama? This does not look like being the story of Alexander's epic conquests and Hephaestus has not appeared in the story.

The programme gives the setting as Macedonia & Molossia Spring 336 BC/ Winter 2008 AD but there is no parallel modern story though I caught references to ecology and privatisation and I failed to feel the claimed 'direct resonance to the situation in Iraq'?

There is talent here among the actors and imagination in the production but the three years of effort which have been put into developing this project, rather than clarifying the concept, seem to have produced something that may mean a great deal to the participants but confusion for this member of the audience. Oh, and the production photograph is not part of this play. Perhaps it is a scene from Part I?

Until 2nd February 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton