The Bacchae

Tue 22nd – Fri 25th November 2011

reviews

Giles Thomas Richard Ward

at 09:06 on 23rd Nov 2011

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In the majestic setting of University College’s Great Hall, Castle Company Theatre performed Euripides’ ‘The Bacchae’. A difficult task, executed with Athenian precision.

The stage was discretely and elegantly designed. This allowed the audience to focus on the wonders of the play. Michael Nower cleverly positioned the green and white lights, which beautifully symbolised the green vine of the grape, and the brightness of intoxicated enlightenment. The Greek God of wine and bawdiness would have been proud. There were many examples of lighting mastery in the play. When Dionysus, from upon high, spoke to his followers, the lights were able to make his shadow forty feet tall, and in the centre of the wall. This was a truly awe-inspiring moment.

The acting was superb, and fearlessly performed. With no stage scenery the actors and actresses, through skill, were able to paint a picture of ancient Thebes in a persuasive way. When they spoke of objects in the distance, it was easy to visualize the scenery. The mischievously cunning aura of Rory Quinn’s Dionysus, was well performed. He demonstrated an air of assurance that made the audience know it was Dionysus’s play. His encounters with Joe Burke’s Pentheus and Fergus Leathem’s Cadmus were always enjoyable. His abilities to engineer situations to his advantage were a delight to watch. The well-spoken prophecy of Dave Spencer’s Tiresias was a good scene.

The beautiful Bacchantes were extraordinary. Annabel Coaker, Eleanor Papadimos, Alice Melton, Lizzie O’Connor, Daisy Newlyn, Caroline Gaunt, Elizabeth Briggs and Georgie Glen were able to accurately demonstrate Dionysian worship. The choreographed movements they had to perform were engineered to be symmetrical, and at times wild and chaotic. There were patterns of chaos to order, and order to chaos, which required very accurate timing. These intricate movements were flawlessly done. Their abilities to speak in rage and then tranquillity, and act in anger and then calmness were done perfectly. They elevated the play to Mount Olympus.

I was particularly impressed with Sinead Leahy. Her choreography, along with the music and acting, allowed the movements of the cast to appear so casual; it was as if this is how things naturally occur. This is a true sign of brilliance, and certainly worthy of praise. An amazing scene was when the string quartet purposefully played muddled notes, and the Bacchantes responded by swaying in their own harmony and then building a human circle in the centre of the stage. It appeared that Dionysus’s spell was so great, external sounds could not muddle the internal being of the Bacchantes.

The string quartet and choir were able to bring a classical ambience to this Greek classic. The blending of note perfect strings and voices allowed the play to have a soundtrack worthy of any blockbuster. Ben Rowarth, with extracts from John Taverner, composed the music brilliantly and if CDs were available, I would have purchased one there and then. He specialises in choral music, and it was certainly evident in the play. The coordinating of music and silence was particularly apparent in adding drama to the well delivered speeches of Zach Cave and Rebecca Wallbank.

We have David Knowles and Paul Moss to thank for the directing and producing of Castle Theatre Company’s ‘The Bacchae’. They have done a fantastic job, and have created an evening of enjoyment. The setting of the Great Hall adds weight to the drama of the play, and makes it more special. I would recommend this play to anybody wanting a night of theatrical wonder.

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Hannah Buckley

at 19:36 on 24th Nov 2011

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I found myself immediately struck with the cold, eerie atmosphere of Euripides’ psychological tragedy as I took my seat in the dark great hall. The stage was discrete, yet spoke wonders, with things associated the God Dionysus constantly being present in the play such the ivy and the green and white lights, perhaps hinting that Dionysus is always there too even if we cannot physically see him. Being so close to the stage, the whole audience is immediately drawn in, and the actors did well throughout the play to constantly engage with the audience.

The Bacchae in particular, with their frenzied, mad chaotic dances did well to stare at you just that little bit longer than you feel comfortable with. They were both the scariest and most beautiful group of chaotic dancers, thanks to the brilliant choreographer Sinead Leahy. In the original plays, the Bacchae would have all said the lines together. Modernising it to individual speakers however was a good move, making the lines clear and more effective than if they were all together (who knows how the Greeks managed that!). One disappointment was sometimes, within the blend of speech and dance, the stamping drowning out ends of sentences so not all the lines were clear. The women’s superb reactions to fellow characters kept the play moving and dramatic though. They did well through Rebecca Wallbank’s speech to react to and add to the deep tragic events she described.

The music that went alongside the play was absolutely fantastic. Ben Rowarth’s music, with extracts from John Taverner, was beautiful and yet sent shivers down your back. It was subtle but very effective. Off-beat rhythms from strings with saintly voices rising high in the great hall did well to heighten the climatic points of the play, and the moments of silence enhanced the tragedy.

The acting as a whole was powerful and brilliant. It is difficult to act with such a play as this, but the cast pulled it off. You are straight away plunged into the wrath of Dionysus, played by Rory Quinn, who is even on stage before you have taken your seat. He did well to balance the playful, slightly effeminate side of Dionysus with his powerful, dramatic side and his anger at Thebes. He made his presence known that he is control of everything and everyone, and with the help of the amazing lighting skills and reactions from the other actors every time he appeared on stage a sense of dread for what would happen to the other characters was in the air.

One of the best scenes for me was the end, when Cadmus (played by Fergus Leathem) and Pentheus’ mother Agave (Annabel Coaker) deal with the consequences of Dionysus’ actions. It is such a moving scene, with good props and brilliant acting making it the most tragic scene of the play. There has always been the question as to whether Dionysus treated Cadmus too harshly, and indeed we feel as an audience that he did, with great sympathy for him and his sufferings.

Overall the play was appropriately modernised in terms of performance, and was a stunning and moving thing to experience. The acting was good, and although lines were not always spoken clearly the story was well portrayed. A superb evening out and well worth the £5.

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