The Bacchae

Wed 6th – Sat 9th November 2013


Elizabeth Crowdy

at 02:20 on 7th Nov 2013



Dionysus is a force that has been disconcerting audiences for thousands of years, and still remained tangible in the Cambridge ADC on the 6th November late show. The unprecedented violence that springs in humankind for no apparent reason was well explored by the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society. There was admittedly not much adherence to Euripedes’ classic. However, the manner in which Constance Chapman brought the Greek play into the 21st century certainly made it relevant and politically engaging.

The use of the London Riots was a good canvas on which to paint the ancient ideas of irrationality and impulsive disorder, and this was only improved by the use of vernacular. Speeches by David Cameron were slipped in with a casual grace in the opening speech of Prime Minister figure Pentheus, with the Conservative Manifesto of 2010 utilised well for cutting moral impact.

The Chorus were used extremely forcefully in this performance, with hoodies and face covering scarves creating an ambience of disquiet. There were a few instances of words getting lost in the music, but their strong movement and interaction as a group emphasised the crowd mentality at play in the riots. The use of the whole chorus to portray the conversation between Pentheus and an apprehended Chorus member was especially effective in illustrating the simultaneous individuality of the large group. They were all possessed by the same demon, despite their own quirks that are inevitable in humankind.

The use of lighting was effective, with the initial dim lighting of Pentheus drawing attention more to the movements of the Chorus members. The whole play had a definite anti-Conservative feel, and though Pentheus occupied a major role, he seemed suitably dense and out of his depth in the superior forces of inhibition and loss of control. The torches later on also added depth and interest, especially when paired with the appearance of Pentheus in the audience.

There was a good blend of darkness and comedy throughout. Julia Cass and Dev Maitre shone as a geriatric Cadmus and Tiresius, with their ambitions to steal a new carbon fibre zimmer frame providing some much needed light relief from the serious overtones of the Chorus’ conversations. The use of dancing and percussion also helped to highlight this contrast, with some dark rap numbers paired with more light-hearted rock classics. This added a dynamism worthy of STOMP, and as the production was obviously very physically demanding, the cast members are to be commended on their stamina throughout.

This play cannot be said to have much relation to the Greek original. However, it was a captivating performance, and managed to enthrall the relatively modest audience throughout. It was well thought out visually, with the costumes lending a compelling anonymity to the chorus and blandness to the dense cabinet members who accompanied Pentheus in his political machinations and search for his daughter. An absorbing opening night which I am sure will improve throughout the week.


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