Category Archives: Reviews

The Bacchae

★★★

Bread and Roses Theatre

The Bacchae

The Bacchae

Bread and Roses Theatre

Reviewed – 17th September 2019

★★★

 

“a beautifully pared down version of this ancient play”

 

Euripides’ classic tragedy is best understood by modern audiences as a story about intergenerational jealousy between sisters and their offspring, and how it brings down the wrath of the gods on their disrespectful heads. The Bacchae is about so much more of course, including how a mother can be driven into such an ecstatic state by divine power that she unwittingly kills her own child. Originally produced in 405 BC in Athens, The Bacchae won first prize at the City Dionysia play festival, and has continued to be one of the most highly regarded Greek tragedies ever since, despite the difficulty of the subject matter. It is not just the beauty of the language that sets it apart, but unusual features such as bringing the god Dionysus on stage as a fully realised character and, indeed, as the protagonist. Esmond Road Productions, under the direction of Maria Makenna, and produced by Erica Martin, has revived this play and adapted it for an all-female/non-binary cast for the explicit purpose of offering more opportunities for actresses in traditionally all-male cast plays. So how well does that approach work for an ancient classic like The Bacchae?

The small and intimate space above the Bread and Roses pub in North Clapham actually works quite well for a play that was originally designed to be performed, in masks, outdoors, to an audience of up to 15,000 people. The ensemble cast of six do use attractive, neon-coloured masks (designed by Steve Wintercroft) when playing members of the Chorus, but sensibly discard them for the roles of the main characters. In a darkened space, with a minimal set, the cast provide everything else, from Euripides’ words spoken with clarity and understanding, to the singing of the Chorus. This is a production that is true to the spirit of Euripides, even if performed in a time where the Greeks gods have long since vanished. Even so, the pace of The Bacchae will still seem slow to modern audiences simply because of the long descriptive passages where one character explains to others what has occurred off stage. But this feature, paradoxically, allows director Makenna’s choice of giving all roles, male and female, to actresses, a workable one, because of the focus on the words. The actions of the performers are necessarily pared down in such a small performance space. The only moment in the drama where this works less well is when Dionysus’ cousin Pentheus, King of Thebes, is tricked into dressing as a woman in order to spy on his mother and aunts in their divinely inspired frenzy. Daniella Piper, who plays Pentheus, is already smartly dressed as a modern female executive, so this transformation lacks the dramatic revelation that Euripides intended.

Esmond Road Productions has taken on an ambitious challenge with this version of The Bacchae, and it’s good to see the cast, for the most part, manage the complex language so competently. Erica Martin, as Dionysus, gives an assertive performance, ably supported by Anna Carfora as Kadmos, Helen Wingrave as Teiresias, Chantelle Micallef Grimaud as Agave, and Merete Wells as Agafya. If you are interested in seeing a show that allows you to focus on a beautifully pared down version of this ancient play, then take a trip to the Bread and Roses pub theatre to see this production.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Maria Makenna

 

Bread & Roses thespyinthestalls

The Bacchae

Bread and Roses Theatre until 21st September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gap | ★★★★ | October 2018
Baby Blues | ★★★ | December 2018
A Modest Little Man | ★★★ | January 2019
Two Of A Kind | ★★★ | January 2019
Just To Sit At Her Table, Silver Hammer & Mirabilis | ★★★ | April 2019
Starved | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Mind Reading Experiments | ★★★ | May 2019
The Incursion | ★★½ | July 2019
Room Service | ★★★★★ | September 2019
Trial Of Love | ★★★½ | September 2019

 

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The Hound of The Baskervilles

★★★★

Abney Park

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Abney Park

Reviewed – 17th September 2019

★★★★

 

“one of the finest promenade productions to be seen for some time”

 

A wonderfully atmospheric and well-adapted new version of the classic The Hound of the Baskervilles proves that there’s no plays like Holmes when it comes to murder mysteries.

“One false step means certain death to man or beast – so tread carefully!” The warning given by one of the characters in the production could hardly be more appropriate for the audience who walk around Abney Park Cemetery as night falls in this clever and engaging promenade version from the 09 Lives company.

Director Lil Warren avoids tiresome clichés (there’s not a deerstalker in sight and no whiff of “Elementary, my dear Watson!”) and creates a thrilling reworking of the 1901 detective story with a freshness and sense of fun which would surely delight Conan Doyle himself.

Such is the ability of the actors that it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are only six of them. In a couple of cases there is a genuine murmur of surprise from the audience when they cotton on to the fact that the performer who disappeared down one twilit track has reappeared in another guise only seconds later.

It’s a good notion to have Conan Doyle (Angus Chisholm) narrate the story in each scene and lead the way in the movement around the park, as it leaves the other actors free to concentrate on the drama without having to worry about promenading practicalities. Chisholm gets the measure of the writer, who had an interest in the magical and mysterious, and there’s a twinkle in his eye when he declares “the game’s afoot!”

Giorgio Galassi is fantastic casting as Holmes, giving the well-known character a completely original take without feeling the need to draw any inspiration from Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, or Benedict Cumberbatch. His is an arrogant and irritating consulting detective showing little patience with his companion and the hint of the actor’s Italian heritage adds a splendid touch of fiery Latin temperament to this most British of fictional creations.

Despite being the most famous – and oft-produced – Sherlock Holmes adventure the sleuth himself vanishes for the central part of the narrative, so Galassi also dons an outrageous moustache to play the Baskerville butler Barrymore.

Holmes’ absence means a lot hangs on Dr Watson and Gary Cain also resists copying others who have played the part of the diarist and companion. Instead we are shown a loyal sidekick who is not treated entirely kindly by his eccentric friend and who has more than a mind of his own.

Dan de la Motte is a suitably stiff upper lipped Mortimer but has some fun with the devious naturalist Stapleton who hides his own family secrets, while Andrew Phipps is a jovial Sir Henry Baskerville, whose family appears to be cursed by the legend of the diabolical hound.

Playing the two female roles is Sarah Warren – founder and artistic director of 09 Lives – who gives some welcome feminine strength to the feisty Beryl Stapleton and a sense of duty to the unfortunate Mrs Barrymore.

The piece is completed by its creepy sound design (Yvonne Gilbert), with a convincing hound occasionally heard howling in the trees and SLAY’s installation design, which allows us to be transported effortlessly from Baker Street to Baskerville Hall, Merripit House, Grimpen Mire and other locations in the Dartmoor setting, with each location perfectly chosen. We even glimpse two fierce red eyes of the hound peering through a Devon fog.

This Hound of the Baskervilles is a well-produced treat and is certainly one of the finest promenade productions to be seen for some time.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Terrill

 

 

The Hound of The Baskervilles

Abney Park until 29th September

 

 

 

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