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The Bacchae at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Published by: Caroline May on 16th Nov 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

In ancient Greece everybody would have been familiar with the story of Dionysus (also known as Bacchus).  Son of the king of Thebes’ daughter by the god Zeus, when Dionysus’ divinity was denied by the Thebans he visited a terrible revenge on their city.

Euripides’ tragedy is rife with dramatic irony as the god’s royal aunt, cousin and grandfather face choices, make the wrong decisions, and hurtle unaware towards their inevitable doom.

Braham Murray’s Royal Exchange production is excellent on so many levels, but let’s start with with Mike Poulton’s new translation, which rhymes flexibly and unobtrusively and is happy to use contemporary English alongside marvellous poetical coinages (such as the contemptuous dismissal of Dionysus as a “wonder monger” or a “godling”).

The acting is hugely enjoyable too, with powerful performances from the central characters.  Jotham Annan lends Dionysus great stage presence and is smooth, charming and self-possessed.  Sam Alexander as a very personable Pentheus makes such a compelling case for the king that you forget he’s a heretical tyrant.  They both deliver their long plot-heavy speeches with consummate ease and use the in-the-round space effortlessly.

A lighter note is injected by Wyllie Longmore’s pragmatic King Cadmus and Colin Prockter as his sidekick Tiresias, the blind prophet.  Their ridiculous bacchanalian rig-out of dried leaves and baubles belies their age and status, and their old-men-behaving-badly schtick provides a lovely comic interlude before the Eumenides come home to roost.

Throughout the play we cannot escape the brooding presence of the chorus, a group of Bacchants whose debauched frenzies have left them wild-haired, stripped to their underwear and covered in muddy handprints.  The eight talented dancers and singers revel in Mark Bruce’s vivid choreography and Akintayo Akinbode’s atmospheric live score.

Louise Ann Wilson’s design clears the stage of any of the predicable clutter of shrines, tombs and architectural features, and Chris Davey’s thrilling other-worldly lighting would strike fear into any mortal. 

Director Braham Murray has created a production that feels utterly modern and fresh and is a genuinely great all-round achievement.



The Bacchae is on until Saturday 4 December 2010

Prices: £9-£30

Evenings: Mon-Fri @ 7.30, Sat @ 8pm [no performance Tues 23 Nov]

Matinees: Weds @ 2.30pm, Sats @ 4pm and Tues 23 Nov @ 2.30pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833



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