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.
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 …
- So, 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.
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
- And when Agaue, under Bacchus' spell, rips
apart her own son, Pentheus and shows off his severed
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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 …
Pulse's Review of the Opening
The Bacchae by Euripides
Aranui High School
Wednesday 11 - Saturday 14 August 2004
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 …