Several audience members are cradling their knees as they sit on the bed of soil. Two or three lucky ones have managed to nab a log to perch on. I collapse onto an elusive tree stump and pray I don’t get cramp during the 50-minute performance.
The staging of Here She Comes at The Gallery on the Corner, Tooting, is far from comfortable. In fact, the set for the latest classical remix to come from socialist-feminist theatre company By Jove reminds of a primary school literacy lesson with a touch of the Lord of the Flies. Yet, for the story that’s to follow, this ‘outdoors’ setting is more than fitting.
Based on Euripides’ final play The Bacchae, which dates to 450 BCE, Here She Comes gives the neglected, yet fundamental, female character a voice. That voice is Agave, mother turned murderer of her son Pentheus, who happens to be the King of Thebes. Most importantly Agave kills her son after being corrupted by the God of Wine – Dionysus – who she worships in the woods with the Bacchic women. Hence the soil.
This original epic poem, penned by a woman, SJ Brady, who also plays the role of Agave, is part-monologue, part-song. Almost in conversation with the accompanying atmospheric electric guitar, composed and effortlessly executed by Vivienne Youel, Agave entices her fellow revellers to sympathy as she heralds her escape from the male gaze and defends her unforgivable actions.
The writing is first class. Touching, funny, and clever, with almost a hint of Kate Tempest in places, it opens the classic tale up to a fresh audience, while remaining faithful to the historic tragedy that first inspired it. Its ebb and flow, use of different voices, and climactic scenes, mean that it is not only epic in scale, but epic in quality. Brady has crafted a wonderful homage to Euripides.
That said, the strange staging and exemplary writing do not manage to conceal the overriding student-feel that clings to the performance. As Agave, Brady has a shaky start; a seeming lack of confidence, combined with some strange stage directions where Brady turns a desk lamp on and off, means that at first the characterisation of our protagonist is a little unclear. Yet after stumbling through the opening sections, in the moments of climax when Agave is swept up by emotion and a sense of liberation, Brady is believable as the possessed mother, and shows glimpses of real passion that had till then seemed lacking.
Here She Comes is an intriguing piece of theatre. But while some of the more novel moments work – the audience is invited to share a tipple with the murderer mid-show – mostly they don’t hit the mark. Brady is certainly a writer to watch, but sadly it was only the poetry and not the overall theatrical experience that shone.
Here She Comes played The Gallery on the Corner until 21 May.