Classic Greek tragedy dramatically reimagined
By Michael Olsen
Moreland Theatre Company’s The Bacchae by Euripides concerns the arrival in the city of Thebes of the god Dionysus (in human form), and the inevitable clash that arises between this god of merriment and chaos and the patrician leader of the city, Pentheus. While Dionysus represents the emotional wellspring of life and offers an escape from life’s hardships through drunken revelry on Mt Citharon (which lies outside the city), Pentheus stands for order and control, and this dichotomy is enhanced by having Dionysus in this instance played by a woman (Kate Barford in a challenging role which she pulled off magnificently.)
Director Sam Browne has taken an updated text of the play (translated by Ian Johnston and adapted by John Kelly and Matt O’Reilly) and has clearly presented the gripping conflict not only between Dionysus and Pentheus, but also the contradictions within Dionysus herself (god of merriment vs avenging god). Whilst the formality of the play distances us somewhat from the characters, the conclusion is devastating and an uneasy catharsis is reached. The heart of the production which Browne handles so well is to present the fatal imbalance that can occur when the masculine and feminine sides of our personality are in conflict, and the horrors that a vengeful god can unleash.
Karl Sarsfield stood out as the commanding and unbending Pentheus, while Angelique Malcolm as his mother, Agave, transfixed with the play’s climactic moment when she slowly realises what she’s done in a moment of utter madness. Special mention should be made of Victoria Haslam‘s costume design for the Bacchae, which helped to energise and bring vivid colour to the production.
After more than 2000 years The Bacchae speaks to us of the results of disobedience, unbending rationality, and the terrors of unbridled passion. Is Dionysus right to take the revenge she takes? Who knows. Euripides seems to be saying for better or worse: “That’s life.”
The Bacchae runs till the 13th of June at 8pm at the Metanoia Theatre at The Mechanics Institute
270 Sydney Road, Brunswick.
Tickets: Book online or cash at the door. For more details go to www.moreland.org.au
Image by Teresa Noble