In the cold, damp echoes of the Vaults at the Southwark Playhouse, Greek drama unfolds. King Pentheus (Damien Hasson) refuses to recognise the divinity of the new god on the scene, Dionysus (Sid Phoenix). In revenge, Dionysus takes control of the women of the city and drives them into revels full of wine and pleasure. They remove themselves from the control of their husbands and their homes, and move to the forests. Pentheus, angered, tries to regain control and captures Dionysus. Will Pentheus recognise divinity? Is Dionysus truly what he claims to be? What does it mean to be divine?
The company uses the long tunnel space of the Vaults well – at a few points it feels as though there is more space available than necessary, but considering it is only in this venue for the one night (it moves on to Theatro Technis from 21-27 May and then to the Accidental Festival on 2 June) all entrances, exits and scene changes are slickly done. Movement Director Hester Schrofer has done excellent work with the chorus – all their timings were spot on. Props maker Hayley Gibbs has produced some eerie and beautiful pieces – Pentheus’s bull makes a short but memorable appearance and a short shadow play shows what look to be elegantly-cut puppet figures, illuminated by torchlight through cloth. There were some slight scrabblings behind that cloth which gave the impression of there not being enough torches to go around but these things will most likely be ironed out once they have a longer run in a single venue.
Neither Resuscitate Theatre’s programme nor its website mentions whose version of The Bacchae is used in this production – apart from anything else it would be nice to be able to credit a good script to a group or an individual as Dionysus in particular has some pithy one-liners that make for a laugh.
Libby Todd’s set design is a simple and flexible one that suggests just enough to prick the imagination into action. (In addition: if you read this, would you mind letting me know what you use to make your blood and gore ? We thought, red acrylic paint and porridge oats, but would love to have this confirmed/corrected.)
The only slightly (very slightly) annoying part is that, with quite a large space to fill, there was some unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing – I wanted to say, stand still and deliver your lines, they are powerful and don’t need any extra pacing. That (in short bursts) and feeling sorry for the entire cast’s bare feet on dank concrete floor (the poor chorus wore short white dresses with bare legs – it practically gave me the flu just looking at them) were the only things I can fault.
To go with a lovely voice, Dionysus gave an assured performance – even a loud hiccup from the audience didn’t interrupt his flow, and his focus was steady throughout. It is as Pentheus moves from authoritarian king to coy man-dressed-as-woman that he comes to the fore, pulling off Dionysus’ ‘bewitchment’ seamlessly and creating just the right level of sympathy to really pack some punch to Agave’s (Natalie Imlay) murderous revelment at the close.
Resuscitate Theatre’s current production of The Bacchae was at the Southwark Playhouse Vaults on 29 April. It moves to Theatre Technis from 21 – 27 May and to The Accidental Festival on 2 June.