Saturday, September 08, 2007
I headed over to Hammersmith on Thursday for the National Theatre of Scotland's production of The Bacchae at the Lyric. Having sorted out my tickets a while ago I was delighted to discover that Andrew from the West End Whingers, Helen Smith and City Slicker would also be in attendance on the same evening and we duly met up for a pre-show drink on the theatre’s terrace (anyone know the collective noun for a group of bloggers?)
And the show? Well, it's already played in Edinburgh and Glasgow, so it's been around for a bit. This is David Greig's version of Euripides' tragedy with John Tiffany, the man behind Blackwatch, directing, and Alan Cumming as Dionysus – a concept that seems inordinately exciting to some. I don't think it fully delivered on its promise. It felt more like a collection of incredibly striking moments than a really satisfying theatrical experience, and was peppered with considerable longueurs. It begins with Alan Cumming descending headfirst on a harness (wearing, not a dress, as some have said, but a gold kilt and waistcoat combo). The chorus of Bacchae were clad in the most wonderful feathery red dresses and boasted an amazing range of singing voices between them. There was also an unexpectedly convincing severed head. Oh, and there was fire – a burst of hot, fire-y fire – the force of which could be felt back in row J of the stalls. These things, on their own, all worked wonderfully.
And of course there was Cumming. I can never quite make up my mind about Alan Cumming; as Andrew commented, he's quite a show-off as an actor, and I found his tic-driven performance in Bent last year quite alienating. But while the same can be said of his performance here, his stage presence, his force of personality and way with an audience are such that, when he was off stage the show rather stumbled, a fact that undermined the impact of the scenes with Paola Dionisotti, excellent as Agave, the mother of the slain Pentheus. Though, at first, the shift in tone was welcome, this rather wail-heavy interlude eventually grew a little wearing and I found myself hoping for a return to the over-the-top campery of earlier in the evening.
Perhaps inevitably there were further post-show drinks (as discussed previously, the chief benefit of staging something without an interval is that it leaves room for at least two bottles of wine afterwards, not a glass as I erroneously stated) and we even managed to snag one of the Bacchae (the lovely Marcia Mantack) and bombard her with questions about the production. She patiently explained how some of the effects were achieved (the cool moment where flowers fall from the sky is done with darts not magnets as we had thought) and revealed just why it’s never advisable to let on to your choreographer that you are still capable of doing a cartwheel.