Maybe you are familiar with this play by popular Athenian playwright Euripides? Like most Greek tragedies, it is about the terrible consequences that ensue when you defy the will of the Gods. In this one, Dionysius disguises himself as one of his priests, and arrives in Thebes with a gang of mad drunken women (the titular Bacchae) to bring the city his cult and the gift of the vine. The King of Thebes rejects the cult, and then suffers an awful fate.
In this Abbey Theatre production, the setting was moved to contemporary Baghdad, and they attempted to present Euripides’ drama as being somehow relevant to current events in Iraq. Unfortunately, the play does not really have any points of reference readily applicable to the War on Terror stuff, so any attempts to create them seemed very forced. There was a great “for fuck’s sake” moment when some dude was brought on stage in an orange jumpsuit and a hood, and the Theban King’s being presented as a US general seemed very meh.
Beyond the fundamentally misjudged attempt to add contemporary relevance to this piece, the production just wasn’t really up to much. The actors generally seemed a bit ploddy, delivering the kind of over-acty performances you get when Greek tragedy goes wrong. This might be a feature of their demoralisation at the attempt to shoehorn the plot into modern Iraq. Or perhaps the lumpen script sucked the life out of them. The last time I had seen a Greek tragedy in the Abbey, it was a wonderful adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone”. That time they had got Nobel prize laureate Seamus Heaney in to write a modern English verse text for them, but with “The Bacchae”, the director just did it himself. Maybe this is something you are better off leaving to the experts.
There was more than no good stuff in the production, nevertheless. The Bacchae themselves had the sense of wild abandon that the followers of Dionysius should evoke, and Andrea Irvine did the lion’s head bit in a manner that does justice to one of the most powerful scenes in the history of western theatre.