In a new adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy, The Bacchae tells the story of a group of mythical women who were at the forefront of rebellion. This version, adapted and directed by Robert Reid and produced in association with MUST (Monash University Student Theatre) at La Mama, draws on both Euripides and Aeschylus original play texts, modern translations of the original texts, such as The Performance Garage’s Dionysus in 69, as well as a range of modern influences including the Vietnam War, the Charles Manson Family cult, and the Patty Hearst kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Presented in two parts either over consecutive weeks or back-to-back in one day, The Bacchae provides a detailed insight into the strength women all over the world and throughout history have, and continue to, show.
This adaptation by Robert Reid was initially a little hard to follow. As someone who is not overly familiar with the original text, having only briefly spent some time on the Wikipedia page prior to attending, the first act of the first part left me needing to really process what had happened. As the play continued to unfold over the next 3 acts, however, I found myself more and more engaged and even spent an hour on Google after I got home to remind myself of the various true stories touched upon during the show. To me, this is the sign of an engaging piece as it gets the audience thinking and wanting to know more. The use of the modern contexts pulled the piece from potentially being a dry, traditional performance into something so much more intriguing.
I would, however, like to take the largest part of this review commenting on the performances. This piece involved a cast of around 40 female and gender-diverse actors who were both seasoned, professional performers, through to members of MUST who are studying at Monash University. The choice to have only female and gender-diverse actors was truly beautiful. In the original text, the story revolves around two male characters discussing how terrible the women are, while the women form a chorus. By not including male actors, this piece emphasises the strength that women have shown throughout history in patriarchal societies. Including such a large ensemble has its risks but it worked amazingly well in The Bacchae. For those who have been to La Mama’s Courthouse, the stage is not a huge space so imagining 40 performers on stage for the entire show would seem like it would be overly crowded and would draw focus from intimate moments. Instead, when not a direct part of the piece, the surrounding women would be watching and reacting and so become almost a extension of the audience. I would also like to applaud the choice to cast both seasoned performers and actors who are new to the stage. Allowing up and coming actors to work with such a broad range of experience meant that these performers were able to grow in their acting journey.
Every single cast member added their strength to the piece and created a well rounded ensemble with no ‘weak links’ as can sometimes happen in such a large cast. There are, however, a few performers I would like to single out. Amanda Dhammanarachchi and Chelsea Rabi provided consistently strong performances both in their individual roles and as member of the chorus. Freya Pragt’s performance as Thyssa was intense and moving, and Tess Luminati’s performance as Patty was heartbreakingly raw. Jess Gonsalvez as Squeaky, one of Manson’s Family, showed the constantly changing states of mind of people who get caught up in cults such as this. Ellen Grimshaw, Felicity Steele, Eleanor Howlett, and Peita Collard all provided strong characterisations throughout. Finally, Kerith Manderson-Galvin was a constant presence who oversaw the ensemble and provided a grounding that the show needed. I could honestly single out each and every performer and talk about the raw, honest and moving performances that they gave, however this review is not meant to be a thesis!
The stage craft aspects of the show, from costumes, sets and props, through to lighting and sound were all very simple and generally were used effectively to support the cast by not drawing attention away from the complex text.
Although it’s a big commitment having to see a two-part show , The Bacchae at La Mama is certainly worth it. Seeing such a large, strong cast couple with a solid piece is something not to be missed.