Review: Bacchae: Prelude to a Purge, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, LIFT Festival, Sadlers Wells, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Clowning. Bouffon. Alienation effect. Utter chaos and hilarity. Marlene Monteiro Freitas brings us 2+ hours of what would seem to be utter craziness on stage. But really, this is a very clever and interesting performance.

It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This is very clear when some leave at different points throughout and the lack of interval seems, at the beginning, overwhelming. But it is certainly one of those productions where you need to fully give over to the madness, and it is a lot of fun, evoking and interesting.

Taking inspiration from Euripides, The Bacchae, we see the performers fight between beauty and the grotesque; peace and noise; the search for the calm amongst the chaos. This is seen in the many bodies, all undertaking something different; sometimes repetitive, sometimes unusual, but rarely the same. These are injected quickly and without much preamble to new “scenes”, where focus changes between performers, but the others always still being in view or supporting.

There is a sense of “dance” and certainly performance art, with times of extreme repetition which, at first seems simple but really, the contortion of body and the movement requires a lot of strength and skill. It seems not a bead of sweat is broken and it is effortless, confirming the skills of the performers. Crude and often lewd suggestions, revelations and gestures take place, alongside a provocative and uncensored but also beautiful video of a woman giving birth, which is clever in not only bringing us in but also in pushing us away. There is an element of Brecht and the alienation effect in the narrative and it works to some extent for the traditional theatre goer. The ups and downs of the production, the ebbs and flows all work together to create something dynamic, grotesque and yet wildly entertaining and thought provoking.

Bacchae: Prelude to a Purge is a roller coaster from start to end; at times drawing you in and other times trying to force you away. It is comical and dark, provoking and sometimes just a little lovingly stupid.

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