Bakkhai ‘in the key of green’

We kicked off this year’s Stratford excursions by seeing Jillian Keiley’s production of Bakkhai on my birthday. A birthday bacchanal can be good for the soul. The show starred Mac Fyfe, Gordon S. Miller and Lucy Peacock. Euripides’s tragedy is about wine, women and wildness by poet/classicist Anne Carson. Bakkhai’s chorus is comprised of seven women – one for each of the gates of the ancient city of Thebes. Them’s the facts.

I enjoyed everything about the production, in particular the smart techno tribal electronica that carried the chorus though its many chants. The show was set as we entered – a smoking stave with a large pine cone on top – the phallic symbol smouldered centre stage.

The chorus was effective, but for me, too controlled for a group of women supposedly frenzied by the spell of an angry god – Dionysius – wrecking his revenge on the ruler of Thebes for his lack of belief. At times the chorus seemed more intent on hitting their marks while maintaining their complex vocal interactions than creating characters.

motorcycles that buzzed beside us for an hour or so on the highway – like a pair of affectionate puppies

Period blind costuming didn’t add anything to the play: chorus in billowing shifts, men in modern day black suits & toting computer tablets, guards dressed as s&m dungeon masters, a couple of characters seemingly wandered in from a Midsummer Nights Dream. Not that historical period was relevant but consistency would have ground things.

There are several political themes in the text that did seem to be fully developed – was it about women’s right to their sexuality, was it about religious blindness & vengeance. Petty gods throwing their weight about – sounds like the USA today – for not getting the respect they deserve. A man wears a dress for the first time, likes the feeling then gets murdered – sound familiar?

Solid performances from a great ensemble cast that held my attention from the very start. The text has been adapted well, lovely poetics abounded ‘in the key of green.’ Running at about 100 minutes this is production I would highly recommend – entertaining but no bacchanal.

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