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The Bacchae at Aranui High School

7.30 - 9 p.m, 11 - 14 August 2004
Tickets: $6 - $8

Robert Gilbert knew over a year ago that he wanted to create a production of The Bacchae - it was time for something different, time to move away from Shakespeare and the musicals.

The initial reaction from his students didn't come as a shock to him - the screwed up faces and sighs and groans. After all, it's an ancient Greek play written by some old bloke called Euripides and, well, like, where's the point? The point is that the parallels between what's happing in the world today and the themes portrayed in The Bacchae are mind blowing. And, with the aid of multi-media, this production promises to deliver. There's an energy in that theatre that's obviously been simmering away for the past few months and we've a feeling it's going to be a stunning, rock ya world, production down at Aranui …

The BacchaeSo, why The Bacchae?
A challenge! And because there were so many female parts in it. But mainly because the play is so relevant as to what's happening in today's world regarding religion and terrorism … 9/11, the invasion of Baghdad, bombings and, gruesome though it is, even the recent beheadings of hostages. What's so disturbing is how detached and remote we've become from the tragedies that have occurred -events start to lose their shock value when the media constantly shows them to you.
How literal is the translation/script?
It's traditional but with a modern interpretation. We've got a mixture of costumes - I wanted to retain the use of masks and we have about 20 of the chorus wearing wonderful half-masks. We've also retained some traditional Greek dress but have mixed it up. In the scene where the Maenads have attacked domestic farms and animals, we've got some 'good Kiwi blokes' in their gumboots standing on one side complaining about their cows being ripped apart!
Where did the idea from the set come from?
I wanted to keep it simple. I kept on thinking of iron girders and it finally all came together when driving down Kilmore Street and I saw the 9/11 monument - it became the inspiration for the set.
And the multi-media?
There are parts of the play where, in the original script, a lot of the action doesn't happen on stage, it's just related because it would be incredibly difficult to actually have it happen - the collapse of the palace, for example. So, we've got footage of the invasion of Baghdad and 9/11 which fits in perfectly for various scenes.
The BacchaeAnd when Agaue, under Bacchus' spell, rips apart her own son, Pentheus and shows off his severed head …
Ah, the head!!!! What a problem that was. It took me five weeks to make. I started off with a wig block and built up on it, papier-mâché included. The art department who've done a wonderful painting job finished it off!
Did you have trouble in finding students to play the parts
No, not really. We've got students here who are completed committed to drama and their acting so I've got a dedicated cast of around 22 with 10 others working backstage. We've had some that have dropped off simply because they didn't realise how much was involved. The cast I've got now have been tremendous. Most of them haven't had a holiday for ages as they were involved in the Stage Challenge and now The Bacchae.

The Bacchae

Who's playing the lead roles
Sara Ninnes from Year 11 is playing the main part of Dionysus. She's had no previous production experience but is totally committed to her drama. Dionysus is portrayed as an effeminate young man and at one point even fancies Pentheus but she wasn't chosen because of gender - she was chosen because she's outstanding. Andrew Bibby from Year 12 plays Pentheus and Agaue is played by Lee Hunt. Andrew Bolitho from Year 11 plays Teiresas and Awi Kuka-Sweet, Year 12, is Cadmus. Awi is absolutely passionate about his acting and has played Romeo in one of our previous productions. These two characters are the ones that bring wisdom and humour into the play. The translation's by Michael Walton and Naomi Ferguson has done a fantastic job with the music.
How have rehearsals been going
Really well. The pressure's been on, of course, and everyone's been feeling a bit off colour not having had a holiday for ages but we're more than ready for opening night.
Any disasters along the way
No, not really. Just the usual - ah, but there was a bit of a last minute panic. We found out that we needed blackout curtains which meant some frantic fund-raising. Have you any idea how EXPENSIVE blackout curtains are …
The Bacchae

Pulse's Review of the Opening Night

The Bacchae by Euripides
Aranui High School
Wednesday 11 - Saturday 14 August 2004

The Director and cast have pulled this ancient Greek play right into the 21st Century - not kicking and screaming but through a variety of creative methods and some very talented acting.

Sara Ninness, as Dionysos, is quite astonishing as she delivers her lines faultlessly with the required ruthless passion and looks stunning in her flowing black costume and blonde plaits. Andrew Bolitho and Te Awhiroa Kuka-Sweet (Teiresias and Kadmos), on the other hand, introduce their own very special blend of unique humour and pathos in perfect accord but the show stealer for me has to Andrew Bibby who plays Pentheus. He fairly crackled with energy during this opening night, shifting easily between temperaments ranging from a would-be lover to a raging tyrant. The audience reacted very favourably to Pentheus in drag and, yes, he was very funny (and how he walked with such poise on those high heels I'll never know) but his rendition of the sexual attraction he felt towards Dionysos was both immensely subtle and incredibly powerful.

The Chorus and the Baccants are the backbone of the play and their performance and singing allows the cast and audience to move effortlessly and seamlessly from one scene to another. The set is simple yet stunning and the music composition, with Naomi Ferguson on keyboard and Min Jung Kim on flute, is a perfect accompaniment to each scene.

The use of multi-media and the inclusion of modern costumes - along with four Agent Smiths in traditional black suits and shades - certainly give this play a new dimension. When Dionysos storms his way into Thebes, a striking parallel is drawn with images of the recent invasion of Baghdad and, as disaster strikes the palace, the tragedy of the Two Towers 9/11 explodes before the audience's gaze. Another rather splendid touch is a patriotic element - watch out for one of the farmers wearing a Speights T-shirt. Leah Hunt, as Agaue, isn't on stage for that long but her performance leaves a lingering impression - especially with a bloodied, mangled head in her hands …

August 2004