You may think you’ve seen The Bacchae – but have you seen Dionysius wreaking havoc upon his namesake play in an attempt to modernise it? This is the premise of Mermaids: The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund’s performance of this iconic Euripides play.
A beautiful show, sparse but full of energy, expertly choreographed and slick.
The cast of The Bacchae is nothing short of outstanding. They play and dance in a fusion of modern music and physical performance, and the entire University of St Andrews company performs commendably. Most notable is the lead, the female Dionysius, played by Phoebe Soulon. Soulon utterly inhabits the role in every facet of her being, effortlessly intertwining mocking seduction, gleefullness, and ferocity as ‘Phoebe as Dionysius,’ both being the God and carrying his torch in a forceful takeover of the play as it is brought to the modern era. Playing against her is Toby Poole as Pentheus, who despite a few faltering moments, counters the God with impressive chemistry and artfully switches his accent depending on whether in the classical realm or the modern one, faster and faster as the lines between the two are blurred.
The struggle of The Bacchae is, unfortunately, the premise upon which this interpretation is built. Can elements of madness be found in modern political situations? Absolutely. But doing little beyond dropping the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Brexit’ a couple of times isn’t enough to tie the concepts together.
The production blends Euripedes' Dionysian madness with the names that march across our newspaper headlines today. It positions the popular instinct of voting as a kind of Dionysian expression, and asks: are those who voted giving into a dangerous kind of expression? The actors and production team of The Bacchae undoubtedly have a firm idea of what is meant to be the moral, but it gets lost in translation, to the detriment of the entire piece.
The Bacchae is a beautiful show, sparse but full of energy, expertly choreographed and slick. And if you don’t think about it too hard, it can be both an aesthetically pleasing and entertaining way to revisit the 2,400 year old play.