There’s ways of doing a Greek Tragedy. If you have to compress a Greek Tragedy into an hour, there are ways to compress it. There are ways to do Greek Tragedy as physical theatre. Unfortunately, this company doesn’t seem to know them.
I’ve seen really fantastic physical theatre productions of Greek myths and legends, so I know it can be done and done beautifully. The issue is, if you’re going to do it, then you really have to go for it. For me, this company didn’t go for it nearly enough. I get that it’s about Dionysus, the most debauched of the Greek gods, but there’s more to physical theatre than lounging around touching each other. It lacks the polished fluidity, and ability to relay emotion and story solely through movement of the human body that marks out great physical theatre.
The play suffers a lot from the manner in which they have tried to adapt it for this Fringe production. The action is awkwardly compressed, and pacing is very off. Pentheus starts and ends the play as an unlikable character with out sufficient development to become the tragic character he needs to be in order for the climax to have the emotive impact that typifies a Greek Tragedy. The whole point of Greek Tragedy is that the audience sympathise and empathise with the Tragic character and are moved by their downfall. You can’t do that if you’ve not done anything other than make this character look like an a***hole.
In addition, I’m not sure what exact translation they were using, but the language feels clunky and inconsistent, sometimes sounding flowery and shakespearean, and at others using oddly jarring modern colloquialisms. The description of the show claims the action has be “transported to a crumbling Victorian mansion”. I see nothing of that in the show itself. Not one thing about it feels or looks Victorian. It feels very Ancient Greek, which is what it is, but it’s not Victorian and that facet of the show is really something they should abandon.
In fairness to the production, it does have good, even enjoyable aspects. The soundscape elements are well executed and the performances from Pentheus and Dinoysus’s actors are strong, Pentheus’s particularly so (the actors swap roles every night, and I saw the production on the 18th).
All in all, a bit of a misstep in adapting Euripides’ classic tragedy that needs a lot of cleaning up and rethink of what it wants to achieve and how to achieve it.