BAKKHAI – Almeida Theatre

In London theatre, Plays, Reviews by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

“Cleverness is not wisdom,” warn the Maenad chorus, as king Pentheus determinedly resists the rise of new god Dionysos’ cult in Thebes. Euripides’ Bacchae tells how the young god returns to his mother Semele’s home city to visit her grave, only to wreak terrible vengeance on Thebes’ young and arrogant king Pentheus, who refuses to respect his godhead. The Greek term for divine power, daimon, becomes a touchstone of Anne Carson’s new version for the Almeida: even the spelling of Carson’s title, Bakkhai, proclaims her intention to stay closer to the original texture of Greek. Euripides’ formal structure remains intact, lyrical choral odes alternating with intense scenes, and while Carson’s clear, crisp language (which retains ancient Greek cries of Euoe! Euoe!) mainly inhabits a timeless poetic world, she touches the contemporary from time to time: “Shall we call a cab?” elderly patriarch Cadmos asks the blind seer Teiresias as they set off in Bacchic regalia to join the revels. “It doesn’t sound very Dionysian,” Teiresias ruefully replies.