SOME pretty strange things have no doubt gone on in the bowels of a building formerly used to house my sister paper’s printing presses but it took inspiration and imagination to think of the industrial space as a stage for the retelling of Euripides classic Greek drama, The Bacchae.
Passing by security to get through a side entrance to the Chronicle and Echo building in Northampton smacked of illicit subterfuge but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the vision of Royal & Derngate’s artistic director Laurie Sansom who has taken his production on an away-day. The printing press rooms seemed a natural home for a makeshift theatre and one ideally suited to The Bacchae’s grim story.
You never know what to expect from a story about the demi-god of debauchery (oh, and the theatre). Orgies, mayhem, violence? It’s a director’s dream.
Sansom has set the tale in modernish times, in a state under threat. Its ruler, Pentheus, is a bit of a control freak. He’s outlawed fun and frivolity in order to keep his people under his thumb.
His cousin, the wayward Dionysus, arrives to shake things up. His followers, an unruly girl gang, The Bacchae, help round up the city’s women and send them out into the desert where they get in touch with their wild side.
Cults, uprisings, indiscriminate slaughter. It’s a modern-day morality tale.
There’s a particularly gruesome scene in Act Two which will have those of a nervous disposition wishing they hadn’t eaten before watching the 100-minute performance but it’s remarkably effective.
Overall there’s plenty to keep your interest – from the uniformed usher ripping off his clothes to reveal himself as a rather splendidly-built leading man (a wonderfully constructed Ery Nzaramba although his heavily accented-dialogue was occasionally difficult to understand) – to a splendid and gutsy performance by Kathryn Pogson as Agave, the mother of Pentheus.
The Bacchae is part of the theatre’s Festival of Chaos season and is teamed, in rep, with Blood Wedding, which features the same cast. Blood Wedding, a story of feuding families set in rural Spain, doesn’t have the same intensity as Bacchae and is pedestrian by comparison with some lack-lustre performances.
Both The Bacchae and Blood Wedding, which is running on the Royal stage back at the theatre, continue until June 30. The final part of the trilogy is Hedda Gabler which runs from July 6-28.
For tickets and more information contact the box office 01604 624811.