Alexandria Macleod, Bertie Taylor-Smith, Bess Roche, Dionysus, Edinburgh Fringe, Euripides, Feminism, Joanne Gallagher, Katerina Ntroudi, Lauren Orrock, Mikra Theatricals, Surgeon's Hall, The Bacchae, The Bacchanals, Theatre Review
The rain is now bored with terrorising the city. It is drizzling listlessly, even absent-mindedly. Walking over to the Surgeons Hall this evening, I suddenly see a vast rainbow above the Fringe, as faint as the watermark in a banknote. From where I am standing, one end is dropping on to the Pleasance Courtyard and the other on to the Assembly Square gardens. I make a mental note: the best plays of the Fringe must be waiting in these venues.
Mikra Theatre’s “The Bacchanals” is admittedly not quite at the end of my rainbow but it is still a clever and ably wrought feminist play. I have my misgivings about the #MeToo movement – about whether it is genuinely empowering for women – but this production refrains from preaching and it instead deals some deft and very gratifying blows by using humour. Rather than choosing to get snagged on a single actress’s casting-couch predicament, the story observes five women who are exploited under the stairs and behind the scenes at a modern performance of Euripides’ The Bacchae. They are the Chorus, up close in their dressing-room, whilst their master, director and Dionysus (Bertie Taylor-Smith) is faraway and aloof. The women are initially happy enough to be in paid theatrical work. Yet as the director’s demands grow ever more offensive, they forge some belated solidarity and then exact a decisive vengeance.
“The Bacchanals” is written by members of the cast and there is a good, natural balance of clowning within the ensemble that comes to echo the play’s call for solidary. Alexandria Macleod’s character, sadly posh and achingly unable to live up to the glamour of her Bond girl mother, is allowed the nearest thing to a show-stealer when trying to leave a voicemail for her ex. Katerina Ntroudi is equally funny as the bluntest of the performers. Even so, each member is like an individually quirky fruit that, when stirred up together, makes for a slick smoothie.
The hilarity is left running throughout the play and yet there is actually a broader spectrum of action on stage. “The Bacchanals” even breaks out into spots of horror at times, which seem all the sharper for being so unexpected. Classicists will note the incongruity that this version of The Bacchae is missing a Pentheus, the Theban king who was torn limb from limb by celebratory women. When this puzzle is finally solved, “The Bacchanals” has imperceptibly woven the injustices of #MeToo into the high affairs of the gods, or some our own familiar world into the mystery of theirs. The revenge that these women take might not be very practical for struggling actresses to pursue, but it is certainly cathartic, and it renders the play’s silliness impressively serious.