Get your coat. You’ve pulled…an interesting show out of the Fringe guide to watch. Seriously though, bring your coat. This adaptation of the Bacchae takes place in the hills of Holyrood Park and, for the most part, uses the site very well. You probably won’t be as cold as the actors however: pre-show warnings regarding nudity were extremely well-founded.
The Bacchae, Euripides’ last tragedy, follows the story of King Pentheus and his eventual punishment for refusing to worship the new god Dionysus, namely by being ripped apart by a group of frenzied women including his own mother. Knowing this prior to the play is helpful; this adaptation is not particularly forgiving if you fall behind with the story. Nevertheless, this is not simply about observing the story but also the experience. The echoing of cries and music around the cliffs of Holyrood is very atmospheric and the frenzied dancing and writhing of the Bacchae does not require words to be understood. A non-English chant uttered towards the end is a moment of brilliance from all involved.
This atmosphere is only broken by a few moments that highlight that this is not a demarcated Fringe space. Members of the public freely walk by and look slightly confused at the sight of half-naked people running around. A man on a BMX charging through apologetically does disturb the immersion and the atmosphere somewhat. Though this is no fault of the cast, who deal with it brilliantly, it is something to be considered when dealing with site-specific theatre. Another thing that could perhaps be more carefully considered is the placing of the audience. Due to the way the ground slopes and where some of the main action takes place, it is difficult to see what is going on when people are lying on the ground (which happens surprisingly often). Most notably, the ‘dismemberment’ of Pentheus is completely obscured to anyone more than halfway back across the mat.
Occasional sight issues aside, the experience is enthralling. Volume is surprisingly a rare problem, only noticeable occasionally when people are not quite angled correctly but all of the cast project very well and make very good use of their surroundings to echo their voices. There is one issue with speaking in sync, often a bugbear for those attempting a Greek chorus. First night jitters may have gotten the better of some actors who speak too quickly in the synchronised moments and thus make the resulting speech slightly unintelligible. Yet these moments are too few to ruin the production much. Similarly the accompanying music is used very effectively. Though usually in plain sight, it is at its best when played from behind or away from the audience’s line of sight.
All in all, the ambition and scope of this production must be praised, especially when you consider that it is completely free. The time passes quickly despite the Edinburgh cold: there is always something interesting happening somewhere to keep your attention fixed on the production and not the weather. The cast fully commit to their roles, unembarrassed by their nudity which is not used simply as a cheap gimmick. This is a production that you will remember for many Fringes to come and well worth a look. You certainly cannot argue with the value for money.