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The Bacchae (Manchester)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
The Royal Exchange know how to stage the classics and even though at times, they gain criticism for playing it safe - as a company they strive to deliver top notch productions which please their audience and the critics. On this occasion though, one cannot help feel that they have bitten off more than they can chew.

This epic tale - featuring long passages of dialogue in the form of speeches needs equally strong visuals. At times, director Braham Murray and adaptor Mike Poulton get it right and there are some dazzling moments in his version of Euripides Greek tragedy but these are outweighed by overlong scenes and indulgent flourishes which leave you dumbstruck instead of filled with awe and wonder.

The beginning section for example opens in such a workman-like way, with Dionysus Jotham Anan delivering a passage, whereby every adjective is illustrated by lighting and sound effects in such an obvious fashion, that it verges on parody. Granted the language remains effective, but then why paint the picture for the audience in such a transparent way?

Mark Bruce's choreography is incredibly effective and evocative but it belongs in a much tighter piece than this. The performances vary, with Penny Layden impressing as The Leader as her turn is commanding and the dancers are all perfectly synchronised - but often they are left looking listless all around the floor, which is a real waste of their terrific talents.

Sam Alexander embraces the language and has great comic timing as Pentheus, in complete contrast to Eve Polycarpou's booming and overacted, Agave - who leaves you feelling quite removed from the proceedings.

I wanted to love this production as the narrative has so much to offer and I liked the idea of a new rich version but Poulton, Murray and Bruce seem to have lost their way because you are left with a production that shouts loudly about how different it is, but is ultimately not exciting enough to divert your attention from pondering what to have for your dinner the following day.


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