By Flo Lunnon
Out of the bright midday sun of June, I chose to spend my afternoon in the bar of Van Mildert (any excuse to drink from 1 pm post-exam revelry) and to indulge in the world of Greek theatre so elegantly twisted into a 1980s queer rendition. Reminiscent of punk and emo genres, initial huge congratulations must go to Lola Stakenburg, Kate Moor and Jesse Price for creating the cohesive aesthetic, ensuring that the Greek Chorus was at once unified by their ripped fishnets and star-studded faces but also individually crafted so that no two were dressed the same. The effect against the Dionysus, who instead reflected more of the post-1960s hippie attire, complete with half-moon eye-jewel adornments, visually demonstrated the character’s gravitas as the almighty God, timelessly encaptured against the punk aesthetic.
Truth be told, I fancied everyone on stage. Even truer is that all the characters fancied one another too. In a real celebration of queer culture, there wasn’t a significant placement on a particular same-sex couple and a depiction of their typical ‘challenges’, but rather a truer representation of characters navigating their way through their desires for any, if not all, of the people surrounding them. Everyone was horny, and the audience was there for it. The highlight of the show for me was Pentheus, played by Raphael Kris, grappling with his loss of control and power, but also a loss of certainty of his sexuality. In all honesty, you could cut the sexual tension between Raphael Kris and Ben Lewis with a knife, their onstage chemistry was phenomenal. Ben Lewis was the standout of the show, easing into a threateningly powerful god as Dionysus with a camp austerity. A combination that is often overplayed, or threatens to stereotype ‘camp’ but that Lewis handled brilliantly, rather reminiscent of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty…. Lewis maintained his authority at all times by confusing and controlling Pentheus, which brought out the hilarious potential of Kris who proceeded to be manipulated, almost willingly subservient, with huge success. The deviation between the desire for power and the desire for lust was core to the production and was explored fantastically as a foundation throughout the play, most notably manifested by what I can only describe as the thirst-trap gang of Bacchae.
The performance was definitely a show of two halves. The first half consisted of the rising action, of interesting character developments and interactions, whilst the climax of the piece existed purely in the second half. In other words, the trigger warnings came into full effect after the interval and it became quite ‘Greek.’ Without giving too much away, I would like to acknowledge Carrie Cheung, who must have initially looked at the props list with pure fear, but manifested some truly artistic and disturbing pieces to the performance — many of which were delicately handmade. These helped to realise some of the dreadful atrocities of the Greek story with startling effect. Immy Woodhead, Hannah Lydon, Ellen Olly and Emma Henderson all should be thoroughly commended for their commitment, particularly to the emotional extremities of the second half. Their acting demonstrated great maturity around what are quite impossible events to imagine, and Rosaleen Tite Ahern’s moment of realisation was one of the standout moments of the show. From possession to reality, the transition took place through Rosaleen’s eyes in moments of well-placed silence and touch against her scene partner, Immy. Furthermore, I have concluded that Hidayat Malik is one of the funniest actors in Durham. Hidayat may say any line and have me in stitches, and his presence and energy were always a welcome and intriguing shift onstage.
Co-directors Charlie Culley and Adela Hernandez Derbyshire overall did a wonderful job for this production. The physical theatre choices intertwined seamlessly with the nature of the Greek Chorus rather than appearing as forced, although these actions perhaps could have been slightly slicker during the second half. I felt that the second half perhaps could have done with greater light-and-shade too, as the shifts in mood and pace were so beautifully achieved in the first half. Without compromising the Greekness of the tragic ending, it perhaps would have been fun to have rallied with the music of the time period more. 1980s punk hits could have lent themselves well to these physical theatre passages, particularly during the ‘hunting’ and Pentheus’s fate. However, that said, Charlie and Adela crafted a stellar production and had clearly worked a lot with each actor on their particular character which evidently came across in the standard of the acting. Each touch, each movement, and each silence was a clear choice implemented into the fabric of the scenes and allowed a gruesomely ethereal tale to manifest itself quite naturally in a college bar. The bar itself was not integral to the performance, and perhaps more could have been done to experiment with the space behind the bar, however, I happily sat with my pint of ‘Little Lad’ and watched some outrageously talented beings onstage perform an incredibly enjoyable two hours. It is a must-see and a great success.
Image credit: Pitch Productions