Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Bacchae, 14 Oct 2015

Conceived by Adena Jacobs & Aaron Orzech, adapted from Euripides
By St. Martins & Fraught Outfit; Melbourne Festival
TheatreWorks, until 23 Oct 2015
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: **
Full review also published in Herald Sun online, Fri 16 Oct, then be in print at a later date. KH

The  Bacchae ensemble; pic by Pia Johnson

If you are expecting to see Euripides’ The Bacchae think again, because this production has more in common with a Little Mix concert than Greek tragedy.

Director, Adena Jacobs, uses (and I mean uses) nineteen girls in their mid-teens and one younger boy in this ill-conceived, impenetrable exploration and deconstruction of – well, something Euripides did not write.

The Bacchae suffers irrevocably from focusing on style and form over content and is pretentious rather than audacious.

Firstly, let me say that Kelly Ryall’s music, performed throughout by a pianist, string trio and percussionist, with harmonies by a few girls, is evocative albeit sometimes intrusive.

After a dimly-lit, far upstage depiction of the birth of Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus, one girl steps forward to ramble about her morning ritual of dressing and eating vegemite toast, then rather earnestly says, ‘I am the god, Dionysus, son of Zeus. If you do not believe me, I will punish you.’

In other banal, poorly staged scenes, the girls lounge around, check their phones, nibble snacks or stare at the audience with little apparent understanding of the purpose of their gaze.

The cast performs with an unsatisfying blend of the provocative and the uncomfortable, presenting a series of vignettes that look like soft-core pornography.

The girls are stripped to bikinis – one to only her knickers – their faces are masked and their adolescent bodies are slicked with oil as they writhe and cavort, wave strap-on phalluses, simulate sex, thrash their hair and one even bleeds gold paint from her crotch.

In her exploration of the Maenads, those wild, violent, demented female followers of Dionysus, Jacobs could have learned much about such convulsive, trance-like states from Okwui Okpokwasili in Bronx Gothic, a Melbourne Festival show from New York.

The ritualistic scenes in The Bacchae are probably intended to feel dangerous, edgy, confronting and impassioned but they end up looking overwrought, tame and awkward.

The fault, of course, is not with the cast of teens but with the director and her collaborator (or should we say co-conspirator?), Aaron Orzech, who are the adults in the rehearsal room asking young women to perform such cryptic, incomprehensible material.

This production smacks of exploitation and does not in any way illuminate the issues it so boldly pronounces in its Media Release.

Forget the age-appropriateness of the piece and ask, ‘Is this good theatre?’ The answer is a resounding, ‘No!’

By the way, it is recommended as suitable for audiences 16+.

By Kate Herbert
The  Bacchae - Carla Tilley_ pic by Pia Johnson

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