Reviewed by James Karas
The Argo Theatrical Company produced Euripides’ Bacchae at the Ancient Theatre of Dion. It was part of the Olympus Festival centered on the Hellenistic theatre, south of Katerini, Greece.
Director Dimitris Lignadis interprets that play as an encounter between a fascist Pentheus and a Christ-like Dionysus with some highly dramatic results.
In the opening scene, a man climbs up a pole and turns on a light. His is dressed in worker’s khaki clothes and his head is covered. He intones the opening lines of the play without revealing his face. We, of course, know that he is Dionysus (Sakis Rouvas) disguised as a Stranger. His followers who make up the Chorus of bacchants from Lydia appear. They are dressed in white dresses that struck me as resembling very badly dressed brides. They perform an orgiastic dance to some wild music, mostly percussion.
The music by Giorgos Poulidis is heavy on rhythmic beats and dissonance with some haunting melodic pieces. The Chorus gyrates, rolls on the ground and executes sexually suggestive moves in keeping with the ecstatic nature of the group. The choreography is by Dafni Asimakopoulou and it suits Lignadis’ view of the play.
The bacchants swarm onto the Stranger and tear his clothes off and he appears with white bottoms and naked from the waist up in a Christ-like pose. This is highly ironic, of course, to see the god of wine and ecstasy as the epitome of asceticism but it is very effective.
Pentheus (Dimitris Passas), wears a black uniform, sports a mustache and is reminiscent of a fascist dictator.
Rouvas does quite a good job as Dionysus. His voice carries well, he has good physical presence and was convincing in the role.
Passas as Pentheus had the initial advantage of speaking through a microphone like a dictator addressing a mass rally. Passas looks prissy and legalistic and does a fine job in providing a contrast between the logical (him) with the irrational as represented by Dionysus and the Chorus.
Roula Pateraki was disappointing as Tiresias. She was wheeled onto the playing area on a cart (Tiresias is blind) and she delivered her lines in a flat, loud, monotone that made little impression.
Maria Kitsou as Agave had better lines and more amplitude to display her talents and gave a dramatic performance as Pentheus’s mother. She ends up murdering her son and brining his head in a bag in the belief that she is delivering the head of a lion.
The set, designed Eva Nathena, consisted of a stack of bales of hay as background and a few chairs as props. The scene is in front of the palace of Thebes and I am not sure about the bales of hay.
Greek Tragedy is notoriously difficult to produce and a director must strive to avoid giggles and raised eyebrows, especially when veering away from a traditional approach. Lignadis unfortunately did evoke some giggles, especially when Agave kicked the bag containing her son’s head as if she were playing soccer. We heard a smidge of a Christmas Carol at one point and a “miroloi”, a traditional funeral lamentation near the end.
The production had some solid performances and original ideas by Lignadis. In the end, Dionysus hangs the head of the faithless Pentheus by the light that he lit at the beginning of the play in a nice touch of connecting the opening and closing of the production.
Partially because of the open-air concept of the theatre without particularly good acoustics, the actors must speak loudly or risk not being heard. This does give the performances a stentorian flavour without the balancing effect of choral passages. The production has many virtues and an interesting approach but it seems that not all the details of the consequences of that approach have been thoroughly canvassed.
The Bacchae was produced in Athens in 405 B.C., after Euripides’s death. It probably premiered at Dion before that date. The present theatre dates from the third century B.C. and it replaced the original theatre on that site that had been destroyed. The imaginative leap from a seeing The Bacchae on a balmy July evening in sight of Mount Olympus to its premiere more than 2400 years ago is a thoroughly pleasant thought. The price of entry in the theatre at €15 is a bargain by any description.