Theatre: The Bacchae Review
Theatre is one of those art forms that is at its best and most interesting when it’s pushing the line on how it defines itself as a medium - or better yet, moving the line.
Robert Reid’s adaptation of The Bacchae is one of those productions that, though it doesn’t have quite the ambition of its primary inspiration, Richard Schechner’s Dionysus in 69, exists in the same tradition, and feels like that same breath of fresh air.
A co-production with Monash University Student Theatre (MUST), The Bacchae is a whole new interpretation of Bacchic myths. Throw away your Euripides Sparknotes, they won’t help you here.
This is a project that has been in the making since 2011, initially inspired by the incarceration of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.
Ritual and rebellion are at the core of Reid’s production, with women taking centre stage literally en masse. The huge cast is comprised of 40 female and non-binary identifying actors, filling La Mama’s cosy space right to the brim.
Among the cast’s ranks are both professional actors and emerging MUST performers, and though the acting is relatively strong across the board, there are stand-out performers.
Like Dionysus in 69, The Bacchae owes a lot to it’s site - it’s an intimate show, placing the audience right to the heart of the storytelling. It’s a production that’s clever and witty and fast - but not for everyone.
The narrative is woven together almost entirely of intertextual references that roll along so fast that if you’re not across all of them it’s easy to lose the red thread.
The show’s use of didactic slide projections on the wall provides a little context, but still, at times it is a struggle - not helped by the lengthy running time. The Bacchae is presented in two parts, two hours each, either viewed separately on two different weeks or in one night on the weekends.
But be warned, it’s a lot to digest for one sitting.
Luckily, the production is filled to the brim with life and energy, and if you lose the red thread it’s just as enjoyable to sit back and just let the narrative wash over you.
Forget the original text, which sidelines women and tells their story whilst they are offstage.
We can never have enough stories about women standing up to power, across generations and time. These women are the Bacchae - not just an Ancient cult of Dionysus worshippers, but a band that persists across time.
Be it Ancient Greece, 1960s New York, or 21st century Russia - The Bacchae captures this energy and spirit.
Throw away all your expectations, this is The Bacchae like you haven’t seen it before.
The Bacchae is showing at La Mama Courthouse in July.