The Bacchae @ New Theatre by Stephen Lovejoy

A powerful greek tragedy about a god’s vengeance on those who denied him honour and the chaos that ensues, the fifth play of the New Theatre season is an ambitious choice from director Lewis Baxter and producer Zoe Sharp. The amount of effort that has been put into pulling it off is evident and the result is one that does not greatly disappoint.

A highly atmospheric production, I entered the auditorium to find a dimly lit space wreathed in fog. I could hear womens’ voices hissing incomprehensibly whilst a lone piano played, setting the mood perfectly. However, whilst these effects enhanced the start wonderfully, as the play continued they started to detract. The music playing would often draw attention away from the dialogue and the slow to clear fog lasted for most of the play, preventing faces on stage from being clearly seen – a shame as (from what I learnt after the fog had cleared) the actors’ facial expressions were often one of the strongest parts of their performances.

Hassan Govia plays Dionysus, son of Zeus, a young god seeking revenge. This is an immensely challenging role that requires the actor to be both effeminate and powerful. Govia pulls off the effeminateness with ease, however his performance is somewhat lacking in god-like power – his soft-spoken voice hampers his coherency and when talking with the voice-over he is quite often drowned out (though perhaps this would be solved if the volume of the voice-overs was turned down.) The other criticism I have of Govia is that he has trouble getting the audience on his side. I started to find myself rooting for the antagonist, Pantheus the King of Thebes who refuses to accept Dionysus as a deity (played by Tom Burke). However, on the whole, it’s a good effort – his performance is satisfactory and the chemistry between Govia and Burke is quite strong, making the scenes with Dionysus and Pantheus entertaining to watch.

Pantheus’ mother Agauë is played by Amanda Chacksfield. Her performance when Agauë is frenzied with madness is quite airy – I was reminded of the character Cassie from the television show ‘Skins’. But when the madness clears Chacksfield comes into her element and her performance is simply superb. Her screams of anguish sent shivers down my spine and her breathless dialogue is utterly convincing. The other frenzied females also played their parts well. At times their movement felt too choreographed and a bit lacking in fluidity, but this could be put down to first-night nerves. Besides, their facial expressions were excellent and overall they were very effective. Pete Allot’s portrayal of Agauë’s elderly father is brilliant, his stopping posture and wheezing voice working together to make a very believable character.

The one main lesson that I felt needed to be learnt from this play is that often, less is more. The effects for this play were well chosen, but by being over-used they lost some of their impact. It would’ve been more dramatic if the piano and flute were saved for the more powerful scenes. The voiceovers particularly should’ve been cut down, least of all for the sake of the cast. Talking in time with a voiceover is no easy task and having your actors do it many times in one production is asking too much. By being sparing with effects, the moments when they are used stand out – intensifying the dynamics of the play.

Regardless of this, the play dynamics were still good and on the whole the play was an enjoyable experience. The music, effects and acting worked well to bring this challenging script to life in an atmospheric way and the build up to the climax was powerful. It was engaging and there were certainly enough screaming females to keep anybody satisfied. Definitely one that I’d recommend going to see.

Stephen Lovejoy

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3 Comments on this post.
  • John
    26 November 2009 at 20:44
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    How can you be so positive? It was certainly the worst production put on so far this year, possible within the last 5 years I’ve studied at this Uni. Author- you really shouldn’t hold back in case to insult the crew!

  • Stephen
    2 December 2009 at 17:05
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    Perhaps… A lot of the things I found dissatisfying with the production I put down to first night nerves/hitches. I naturally assumed it would improve in later nights.

    Apparently it did not…

  • Nick Medhurst
    3 December 2009 at 00:31
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    Perhaps John comment would have been more relevant had he had the courage to post a surname.

    Perhaps that fact he didn’t answers his own question. How can he be so negative? Anonymity certainly seems to help.

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