The Bacchae

The Bacchae Play Review

By Evan Papamichael

Presented by Monash University Performing Arts 16th-19th August, 2007

Chapel Off Chapel

This was an excellent play about the power struggle, between the strong and not so strong. We find a stunning contrast between costumes and characters. The protagonist Dionysus wears a mask in the opening scene. It is golden and noble. And he wears it over his head, with pride and joy. From one side, Dionysus’ mask, portrays a god like Zeus. We are told that Zeus is Dionysus’ father, as is the former king of Thebes, the ancient Greek city where the play is set. On the other side of Dionysus’ mask, we see a mould of a man, representing our protagonists’ place, as heir to the throne.

Mystery surrounds such difficult issues. We feel fear, tension, anxiety and grossness. Why you may ask? Simply because Dionysus is not only half man and God. He is also a magician and is going to bring destruction, to the people of Thebes, through hypnosis. Most of the scenes are in darkness, depicting a link between Dionysus and the occult. Drums beat and women sing and dance continuously. There are sacrifices of human goats, depicted in a subliminal way. But the final climax comes as the king of Thebes, the young man, Penthius, is murdered by his own mother. The audience is left to ask themselves, why the young king was killed?

The answer is simple. Because the people of Thebes, initially refused to accept and believe the fact, that Dionysus was half man and half God. By being insulted, Dionysus decided to bewitch the king’s mother, her sisters and all the city’s women. They were hypnotised into believing, that Penthius was boring and had no authority or place on the throne. And that he would not let the women be happy, smile, sing, dance or gratify their sexual desires. Therefore, he must be killed.

But there was an anti-climax at the play’s conclusion.

Where the women realized what they had done, especially the king’s mother and they mourned his death with hysteria, horror and misjudgement. “Oh, what have we done?” the women shouted. And wow, what a way to let down the final curtain!

All of the characters gave a tremendous performance. They were convincing, entertaining and amusing. I was not bored throughout one part of the play. The couple sitting next to me agreed. It was good to see that the actors, were only confined, to a small but simple stage. They made the most of it and were successful. I was happy to see the ancient Greek musical instrument, the lyre, being played throughout many of the scenes. It was used to strike at feelings of enjoyment, happiness, bewilderment, death, sorrow, climax and anti-climax. And to think that as a Greek Australian, this was my first live experience of a classic ancient Greek theatrical production, modernized to the point of perfection, to suit the expectations of a contemporary audience. Wow-I was in for the time of my life!