The more ancient a play is, the more work must be done to make it relevant. This is the fundamental struggle that any director has working with Greek Tragedy today. Gabriele Uboldi seems relatively unfazed by the concept. To him, that difficulty of making that relevant is basically the central conceit of the entire show.
This performance of the Bacchae is less about the text itself and more about a group of people who are putting on the Bacchae. Interspersed within an extraordinarily cut down script are moments of new writing about a theatre company disagreeing on a modernist or a traditionalist approach to the play. “We want to ask that question about how to perform these pieces,” says Uboldi, “that text that people hide behind is blown up.” This is a novel approach, and to make it work, it requires a lot of work, dedication and sacrifice. Dropping into a rehearsal showed that as a reality.
What immediately struck me was a sense of controlled chaos. There’s a lot of noise going on in these rehearsals, with each of the actors actively inputting on ideas as they go forward. “Does he have to carry him,” says Molly Williams, the actress for Dionysus “is that something that has to happen?” We’re on our second attempt to get one actor down from an elevated ledge, and Gabriele is standing from the outside, watching the discussion to see how it works out. When the noise quiets and the decision is made to change the blocking, Gab springs into action, positioning each actor with pinpoint precision as they reach up to grab our actor from his podium. The duality of these rehearsals strikes me right off the bat- it’s rare to see clear minded directors give such a degree of autonomy to their actors, especially with regard to such visually impactful moments. Even more striking is Gabriele’s ability to create moments like this seemingly on the fly. By the end of a discussion, he will have created a clear way to block a vaguely discussed idea that manages to look impressively good.
This show is also full of a lot of dance. I had time to watch one number, watching all the substituent dancers as they slid around the room to a song worthy of a good club night. These segments, while cleanly choreographed and visually cohesive, were stuffed with personality. The manic joy of Dionysus kept everything together, but each individual dancer would occasionally spin off to do their own thing, with a different emotion in everyone’s feet. The physicality did as much talking, if not more, than any of the dialogue does. Which fits back into that theme of connecting the old to the new. This production, highly physical and brilliantly inventive, is trying to bring a breath of fresh air to a very old text. And I hope it succeeds.
The Bacchae is going on the 22nd and 23rd of November at 7:30 in the StAge.