A National Theatre of Scotland production, directed by John Tiffany of "Black Watch", adapted by the highly regarded David Greig, and starring Tony award winning Alan Cumming. Does the Guardian run a Fantasy Theatre Competition? Because this would certainly be my entry. Back in reality, "The Bacchae" was everything I'd hoped it would be, but also a little of what I'd feared it might be.
Alan Cumming as Dionysus owns the stage every moment of this production - from his incredible entry to his last curtain call. His performance is electric and pitched absolutely perfectly to the audience. Every look, glance, gesture, and inflection is carefully crafted and never fails to hit the mark. "Star" is an overused term, but few would question Cumming's entitlement to it.
But while it's Cumming that makes the show, he's also responsible for its failings. The scenes without him simply can't compete. It's not a problem with the performances or Greig's writing, it's just that Cumming's performance is so entrancing that you just want him back on stage. In fact the only way I can think to resolve this difficulty is to keep Dionysus on stage watching the scenes and reacting in silence.
Tony Curran as Pentheus gives a hugely enjoyable performance - particularly once he falls for Dionysus' scheme and does well to match Cumming's intensity in many of their shared scenes, however again this leaves some of his moments with other characters feeling flat in comparison.
The chorus of The Bacchae are excellent at times, and you can almost cope with Cumming's absence for periods as they take centre stage with series of musical numbers. There are some great voices in there, but many of the lyrics can be difficult to pick out.
There are additional prices to be paid for Cumming's genius. Much of what we get is phenomenally entertaining and sections are reminiscent of those comedic giants of the Scottish stage - Rikki Fulton & Stanley Baxter. This almost pantomime like tone is a joy to watch, but it's at the expense of some of the themes of the play. We aren't really left considering the conflict between repression and hedonism, or even the dangers of rejection and revenge. The pay offs are all in the performances.
This is a magnificent production but it is a little unbalanced by Cumming's sheer presence, and in trying to avoid him overpowering the show by ensuring he has plenty of offstage time, they have in fact only highlighted how empty it is without him. "The Bacchae" is a truly memorable show, but the memories are all Alan Cumming.
"The Bacchae" runs at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 1st September and then at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 5th to 22nd September.
Photo by Richard Campbell.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Posted by Statler at 10:26 pm