Welcome to Thiasos-Ancient Greek theatre
Review in The Stage, 13 November 2003 Euripides Bacchae



For a modern director staging an ancient Greek play, the obvious temptation is to try to make it accessible and contemporary.

But the strength of this bold production, based on a new translation and jointly directed by Yana Zarifi and MJ Coldiron, is that it alienates at the same time as it strikes chords of recognition. It eschews straightforward interpretation and  glib jokes about drunken frenzy.

The audience emerges shocked by unmitigated cruelty and morally disorientated. The values of our own society do not apply but we can pity the victims and fear the gods, or at least the power they represent.

Much of the effect is created by the immaculately rehearsed chorus of eight Asian Maenads. Speaking and singing in a mixture of English and ancient Greek, accompanied by authentic-sounding music and choreographed by Glen Snowden, they weave an atmosphere of mystery and ritual.

These amoral Maenad women are in thrall to Dionysos, played not by the effeminate man of classical tradition, but by the steely Deanna Johnson, at once alluring and terrible.

Sam Peter Jackson as proud Pentheus is no match for Dionysos but we can only regret the extreme violence of his end, powerfully related by Lawrence McGrandles Jnr as an eloquent cowherd.

More moving still is the devastating scream from Georgina Sowerby as Agave at the irrevocable deed she has done in a fit of Bacchanalian madness.

Barbara Lewis