Baring all for Bacchae at Abbey Theatre, St Albans

PUBLISHED: 16:00 17 June 2010

Ian Rowe as Dyonysos

Ian Rowe as Dyonysos

Archant

A MESMERISING – and dare I say cheeky – performance by Ian Rowe in the Company of Ten’s production of The Bacchae is breathing new life into the Abbey Theatre Studio this week.

In the lead role of Dionysus in The Bacchae, Ian bares not just his first-rate acting and singing skills but nearly everything else in a production which is lively, dramatic and like a breath of fresh air on the local drama scene.

Director Roger Scales has taken David Greig’s adaptation of the Euripedes play and worked it superbly for the limited space in the Studio by the addition of a catwalk stage across the floor and room for the performers to move in front of and behind the audience.

So effective was the scene where Dionysus triggers an earthquake in Thebes that the vibration could be felt through the seats compounded by the flashing red lights behind a scene of houses swaying.

The Bacchae tells what happens when the God of Wine and pretty well every other kind of pleasure, Dionysus, comes to Thebes to settle an old score – not enough respect being paid to his mother Semele who was seduced by Zeus.

The influence of Dionysus is felt throughout the staid city of Thebes, illustrated by the behaviour of the five Bacchae who surround and adore the god and more alarmingly by Agave, the mother of the King of the city, Pentheus.

The element of tragedy in Greek drama really raises its head at the conclusion of the play and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the grief-stricken performances of Margot Jobbins as Agave and Dewi Williams as her father Kadmos.

But so compelling is Ian’s performance that the play seems flat when he is not on a stage which he really does stride like a Colossus, above the level of the audience and clearly above the level of Thebes itself.

There is a lot of humour and surprise in The Bacchae – a version of We Are Family by Sister Sledge in the prologue comes out of the blue but is exhilarating and somehow very pertinent. And the scene where Pentheus – a cagey and clever performance from Stephen Cunningham as the bravado leader of his city who does not know what he is up against – dresses as a woman to observe the licentious behaviour of The Bacchae is a hoot.

But the evening belongs to Ian Rowe who does not make many appearances for the Company of Ten but always dominates the stage when he does. From his clever make-up to his wig, costume and impressive acting skills, he brings this 21st century Dionysus alive.

Quite whether the Company of Ten – renowned for its extensive wardrobe – has some of the more interesting costumes in storage or has opened an account with a bondage store remains to be seen but this is undoubtedly one of the best productions from the St Albans drama group for some time.

The Bacchae runs until Saturday and tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk

MADELEINE BURTON

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