Disclaimer first: This will be the idiot’s review, as I am not familiar enough with Euripides' play The Bacchae, its various re-stagings, or even Classical Greek Theatre.
But I know what I like.
The Bacchanals is certainly deserving of a more informed critic. Adopting the metatheatrical frame of actors preparing before a performance, the play tells the story of the power dynamics behind the all-female chorus of 6, as they strategise, form alliances, and plot against one another. The central figure of Dionysus – omnipresent and yet invisible – presents both an object of their anger and their chief tormentor. What follows is a kind of classical tragedy re-set in the dressing rooms of the British theatre, as the women jostle, ally, and attack their way through various formations of human struggle.
It’s a faultless premise that renders the politics of the original play accessible for a new audience, while casting informed and refreshing comment on the play itself. Watching the actors back-stab and bitch their way around the all-white Ikea set which forms the casual environment of the dressing room – intensely private, almost sacred – is as deeply interesting as it is pleasurable. Their machinations are only interrupted by bursts of seamlessly-inserted direct quotations from Euripides’ The Bacchae, which itself brings a certain dream-like violence. It’s a play that’s not afraid to be trashy as hell, and the effect is a kind of Real Housewives of Camden, only with a higher potency, and probably less men.