Archive for June 21st, 2008

Harvest activity here meant I missed The Bacchae at the Edinburgh Festival, and also the Glasgow run last summer.    Happily it is being resurrected, with a few cast changes,  for a handful of performances in Aberdeen and Inverness before heading off to New York.

A likeable show, even if it does not all quite work.    Another tremendous soundscape from Christopher Shutt set the tone even as we took our seats, with ominous growlings.   

Alan Cumming  as Dionysus made the now well-known but still breathtaking entrance at the start, and held court.    The son of Zeus who demonstrated that he can burn the place down one moment and render himself so bright that mere mortals like us cannot look at him, Cumming was totally integral to this performance, and was missed as soon as he left the stage.

David Greig’s script says that “Thebes lies at the confluence of two major rivers – never a good sign” – Cumming, clearly seizing a chance not available in Edinburgh or Glasgow,  delivered these lines with relish as the Aberdeen audience got the reference.    

The Greek chorus were a black gospel choir, dressed in individually different  shaggy bright red dresses.  A nice touch.   They moved and acted well, but while there was an odd good voice, the general standard of singing let them down, particularly in the exposed final number.    There have been a few cast changes here since Edinburgh, and this was the ‘first night’ for most of them.    I was also not sure that the sound balance was correct, and the quality was rather ‘radio-mike tinny’ if you know what I mean.    They will have to sharpen up their singing for New York.

There were some very good performances:   Cal Macaninch as Pentheus, Prince of Thebes, deliciously tricked into dressing up as a woman to peep at the Bacchae in their drunken rituals on the mountain, was particularly enthralling.    Not many men could wear a dress like that.     Paola Dionisotti returns to her role as his mother Agave, who unknowingly murders him and carries his head home to Thebes triumphantly, believing it is the head of a mountain lion.      It is left to Ewan Hooper as her father, Cadmus to so gently inform her about the terrible truth – extraordinary performances from both, and a highlight of the evening.

But just how sorry were we meant to feel for Pentheus?    Dionysus played a cruel trick indeed, yet Cumming spends most of this play drawing the audience to his side, and we were so taken in.     Right from the start when he says “You know the story.”    Most of us don’t, of course, and so we have it explained about Semele and Zeus’ thunderbolt.    We are immediately in Dionysus’ confidence.    Which makes the play all the more shocking of course.

It was Alan Cumming’s show.     Blood everywhere.    The full house in Aberdeen loved it.

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