r Monkey took the train into Manchester to go to the press night of the Royal Exchange Theatre's new production of The Bacchae
When he got to the theatre, Mr Monkey climbed up into the Mezzanine Gallery to see the Dance Photography
exhibition. Next he scampered down to the Education Lounge to examine the model of the set, and found that the stage was going to be flat and empty. Outside the Lounge Mr Monkey inspected a display of costume designs for the play. Then he collected his humans' tickets, and wondered what the play was going to be about.
There are several stories explaining Dionysus' birth, but he was always the son of Zeus and a mortal, and he was always 'twice-born', and his mother always died. However he was born, Dionysus spent some time wandering through the known world establishing himself as a god worthy of worship, bringing wine as a blessing to humanity, and being extremely easy to offend. Generally anyone who annoyed Dionysus ended up killing their children in a fit of god-induced madness. Euripides' play - written 25 centuries ago for a patriarchal audience - dramatises the story of Dionysus' return to the city of Thebes, supposedly the city of his birth, and how he destroys the ruling family.
Mr Monkey was interested to see that the set was, as the model showed, almost totally featureless. Very soon the stage is ringed by the eight-strong chorus, the Followers of Dionysus, who are onstage until the very end of the play. Scene changes are achieved with lighting and sound effects, and the whole production is gripping.
Jotham Annan (Dionysus) is suitably arrogant as a disguised god playing with loaded dice against helpless mortals and blaming humans for everything he's done to them.
Mr Monkey thought that the most effective of the other male players was John Kirk as the Herdsman, with his description of the two sides - the innocent and the destructive - of the Theban women on the sacred mountain.
Eve Polycarpou (Agave) is off-stage being irresponsible on the mountainside for most of the play, but is absolutely rivetting - both in her exultation and her absolute despair - when she does appear. Mr Monkey was also impressed by Penny Layden as the Leader of the Followers of Dionysus.
This is a strong production of a classic drama, and Mr Monkey was engrossed from start to gory finish.