Fringe Online 2020
Dionysus arrives to send his followers, the Maenads, into a frenzy. Along with elders in the city, Thebes is firmly in the grip of this new God. The young King, Pentheus is not so enamoured and tries to ban his form of worship. His crackdown is challenged by Dionysus in disguise, leading to an exchange where the curiosity of Pentheus gets the better of him. He is persuaded to go and see for himself because Dionysus refuses to give him details of the rituals of worship. Perseus is persuaded to dress as a woman to go and see for himself. The Maenads are invincible in their frenzy. Of course, as it is a Greek tragedy, this is not such a great idea for Pentheus, and he is caught by the Maenads and torn limb from limb by them. Pentheus’s mother, Agave, was one of the attackers and believing it was a lion she had torn the head off, has taken it as a trophy and brought it to her own father as a gift. Cadmus, Pentheus’ grandfather is horrified. Dionysus, as a vengeful God takes out further punishment on the family, leaving them bereft and in tatters which leads the chorus to question how far vengeance should go.
As an exercise for their degree this was already a challenge. The delight in watching this comes not just from the abilities on display, backed by the terrific script but also in the theatrical feel to the whole enterprise. This was filmed as a reluctant stop on their studies but in a theatrical environment that constantly reminded us that we had a whole play and not just a selection of scenes. It worked very well indeed.
Finn Den Hertog’s direction was crisp and clear, giving the young actors the opportunity to develop their scenes whilst also constantly reminding them of the need to contribute to the narrative; hardly surprising given his pedigree and experiences as a young creative. His development since early days has been one of the crowning and fitting values of investment in the arts.
The set and the costumes added beautifully to the piece and with a soundscape of sorts that was not wholly intrusive, this managed to give us the whole piece as a tragic and contemplative narrative on how we could get caught up in believing things without question.
Added to that the experience of this young cast who will have had to rehearse in very new circumstances this has found new eyes and a freshness that was inspiring. And yet there was no reference or cod attempt to make the play reference the current situation outside and the strength of the artistry benefited greatly from that. By ignoring the resonance with today it heightened its dramatic impact as a commentary on some of the ways that we have cottoned on to political developments without thinking – or at least some have.
I found myself captivated by this principally because of its theatricality and as with many student pieces, there was a beauty in the range of accents. As we heard the lilts and the cadences it reminded me of our part – our joint part – in rebuilding after all this is finally done. The richness of the diversity on offer here was simply a pointer. Greek tragedy in these days hitting the spot, who would have thought it…