Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Blood: The Bacchae at the Arcola

Right then, some words would be good I suppose, specifcally some words about theatre. I think I can just about manage that.

First visit of the year was to the Arcola, one of my favourite venues, to see In Blood: The Bacchae. Taking its cues from Euripides, this is a play set in Brazil during the twenties, that pads out its story with the distinctive movements of capoeira. But though not short on atmosphere, it ends up being a curiously flat thing, lacking in dramatic punch. The dance-combat scenes were very striking, but in terms of narrative the production suffered form a lack of coherence.

Frances Viner’s play is based on the true story of Besouro, a young outlaw, a folk hero. In a divided society, he used his cunning and charm to humiliate the authorities rather than resorting to violence, but it was only through reading the programme notes that this really became clear. Instead of shaping and enhancing the production, the reliance on music and movement hobbled proceedings, fighting the narrative, weighing it down.

Apart from Greg Hicks' police chief, there were no strong performances, and even he was oddly muted. It was difficult to get a grip on his character. He was sometimes a caricature of a villain, flinging cocaine about the place, sometimes more ambiguous. Having long ago killed Besouro's mother he still returned to leave flowers on the spot were her body fell. But all of this was muddied by the often overly ornate language and the thick accents of some of the supporting cast.

The capoeira was exciting to watch and, coupled with the music played on drums and berimbeaus (cool twangy things that look like archery bows with gourds attached), the production had a degree of agreeable energy, but even so, taken together, it felt underpowered. The AfroReggae concert Barry and I saw at the Barbican last year managed to say more about Brazil's past and present than this odd concoction.

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