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Lazarus Presents The Bacchae - Interviews with Gavin Harrington-Odedra and Nick Biadon

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 7th Apr 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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A man is just a man, unless that man is God.

Lazarus Theatre Company has a certain expertise in performing Greek plays. The Bacchae will be their ninth production of a Greek drama after having presented adaptations of Medea, ElektraHecubaOrestesElectraThe Women of TroyIphigenia in Aulis, and Oedipus in 2013.

I spoke to director Gavin Harrington-Odreda and Nick Biadon, who plays Dionysus, about the latest production of this exciting theatre company.

Could you tell me a little about how you approached the play and the process? 

GHO: After reading the play again and doing research on previous productions it dawned on me that the play is called The Bacchae for a reason. It's not called Pentheus, Dionysus, Agave, or The Tragedy at Thebes. I wanted to find out who the Bacchae are, so that we can then discover who everyone else is in comparison to them. Then I started finding music that made me think of the play, investigating what the play sounded like, how it looked, and what the story is about.

The rehearsal is a collaborative process where the cast and I devise elements and sections of the piece together. We use influences from the text, images and music of inspiration, and our own experiences to develop the final product.

NB: We started with a lot of research, and discussions as a company to understand the history and setting of the play. We have a fantastic dramaturg, David, who's been a huge help in giving us the context of Greek mythology, culture and theatrical history - having that solid foundation is crucial when putting on a play like this. On top of all this great source material I then applied my own process from my training at The Oxford School of Drama: asking those basic character questions, mining the text for clues, and finding out what it is my character wants. The biggest challenge is finding Dionysus' status without 'playing' it. There's that acting adage that you don't 'play' the King - he receives his status because of how others treat him, not because he's 'being kinglike'. The same challenge applies for a god!

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 The director in rehearsal.

Did you adapt the drama or make any major changes?

GHO: The edit that we are using has been adapted with the cast in mind. During casting, we started to have an idea of who the characters were, and they started to speak through the actors and make decisions for us.  

NB: We're working from an adapted version by the director, Gavin. The biggest change is the adaption of the choric text and inclusion of self-devised pieces by the company, to really individualise the Bacchae and give us an insight into the followers of Dionysus. When it comes down to it the play is really about them - Dionysus is just a catalyst for change - so it's great to be able to understand them more. 

Is it going to be a very realistic or more stylised production? 

GHO: Through the devising process, we have been finding physical ways to tell the story, we are interpreting the text and the situation and devising different ways to communicate this to the audience. If I had to label it one or the other, I would definitely say that the production will be more stylised. We as a company have been affected by the story, and hope that this can be communicated, and maybe even translated, to the audience.

NB: We're still experimenting and playing with ideas in rehearsals, but we've been devising a lot of movement and music pieces to convey ideas and physical events - creating the atmosphere of an earthquake, for example. 

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Nick Biadon in rehearsal

How do you see the contradictory character of the god Dionysus? 

GHO: Dionysus is a manifestation of contradictions. Our dramaturg David Bullen has suggested that Dionysus represents the two sides of a binary situation, each individually, but also, at the same time dissolves the binary. He is both man and woman, and dissolves the two. He is also the Greek god that teaches us to amend the Greek understanding of 'everything in moderation' by saying even moderation in moderation. In order for society to function, we need to have release. 

In this play, Dionysus is a mirror to Pentheus, and vice versa. They may have differing world views, but they are very similar. Pentheus identifies himself as the ruler of his society or world, and when that is threatened, he fights for recognition as the leader. Dionysus is fighting for recognition that he has been denied by Pentheus and his family. They are both willing to go the extreme action of killing for it. 

NB: What I love about ancient Greek mythology is how 'human' the gods are; none of them are perfect, they all have their own foibles. Zeus, for example, was a serial adulterer - that's how Dionysus was conceived. So it's really interesting to explore those contradictory elements in Dionysus. Why is he so desperate to be acknowledged as a god? Does that come from a place of deep insecurity, or does he just love the praise? I think there's a bit of both in there. He's definitely on a revenge mission, but he's noticeably similar to Pentheus in a lot of ways as well - proud, stubborn, sometimes childish in needing acknowledgement. There's much more going on in his head than what you see on the surface, and it's fascinating to unpack all of that in rehearsal. 

Why do you think this play needs to be seen today?

GHO: The Bacchae is a play that addresses issues that affect minorities and marginalised groups of society. Identity, recognition, legitimisation and freedom are all driving forces for characters in this play. Regardless of whether you identify as a member of a marginalised group, it makes us question how they are treated.

NB: I think at its core The Bacchae is an exploration of the ideas of liberation, the blurring of society's lines between structure and freedom, and what can happen when power is given to the powerless in society. Despite its age, it's a play which can and should challenge us to look at our own modern society, and what our limits are. Do we have too much structure in our lives - whether self-imposed, or forced upon us? Is it possible to have too much freedom? What are the implications of either extreme, for us and those around us? These are questions I think everyone should ask of their own lives, and hopefully questions which this play will provoke.

Interviews conducted by Carolin Kopplin 

Until 7th May at the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell

Photographs by Adam Trigg 

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