Greek classic The Bacchae has been updated to the setting of London during the 2011 riotsMichael Loy

In this version of The Bacchae, an Ancient Greek play about hedonism, anarchy and frenetic worship, the action is transferred to the streets of the London riots in August 2011.A violent and seductive mob of Bacchants follows the mysterious Dionysus to riot and loot while the prime minister helplessly tries to uphold the morals of the city. This re-adaption of the original play by Euripides is a very powerful analogy with a lot of exploding ideas, great metaphors and provoking questions.

Unfortunately the production fails to stage these concepts in a convincing and powerful manner, leaving many aspects unsettled and more questions open than resolved.

Robbie Hunt gives a good performance as Pentheus, the prime minster fighting for "what's right" in his city. Even though he appears a bit smooth at times, he makes a strong impression in his speeches defending his politics. His counterpart, Agave (Ella Duffy) often appears wooden and unconvincing in her rebellion against her father. Hunt and Duffy don't connect well on stage and fail to deliver this central conflict convincingly. 

Throughout the play, a lot of the plot developments are poorly motivated and forced: the relationship between Pentheus and Agave for example seems stereotypical and cliché-ridden. This leads up to the ending, which is, in spite of an inventive symbolic substitution, an abrupt and undeveloped anti-climax that leaves the audience disappointed. In addition, some technical glitches and lighting problems as well as a rather unimaginative set design impair the performance.

On the other hand, the play has very funny and entertaining moments, with great acting from the chorus and well crafted dialogues. The unconventional but hilarious portrayal of Cadmus and Tiresias (Julia Kass and Dev Maitra) deserves a special mention. Highlights of the play certainly include the impressive dance choreographies ranging from stuck-up cabinet members in office-chairs to ecstatic rioters. This is accompanied by greatly agitating music, roaring drumming and choral singing. These physical theatre scenes are the only moments where the play manages to pass some of its unsettling energy on to the audience. Apart from that, The Bacchae surprisingly lacks physicality I expected, with most riot-scenes seeming hectic and awkward, rather than impulsive and violent.

Overall while being full of great thoughts and provocative ideas together with some energetic physical theatre, this play fails to combine all this into an enthralling and passionate performance, leaving the audience wondering about the unfulfilled potential of some great material.

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