THEATRE REVIEW: Bakkhai starring Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel


WHERE: Almeida Theatre

WHEN: 15/8 runs to 19/9

‘Another night at the Almeida – and still no set,’ observes a neighbouring theatregoer to a friend as the (metaphorical) curtain is about to rise.

The best thing about James Macdonald’s production of Anne Carson’s version of Euripides’ Bakkhai is when Dionysos (Ben Whishaw) and Pentheus (Bertie Carvel) share the stage. Pentheus has banned worship of the god Dionysos and attempts are made to make him change his mind.

Carvel, who stars next in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape at The Old Vic (17/10 – 21/11), and his character have the more interesting journey to take here and Whishaw’s charismatic turn is a masterclass in cross-dressing and temptation. Carvel’s final scenes are brilliantly played and quite moving.

But the chorus is far too prominent, football squad-sized and seems to have little connection with the main characters. Sat three rows behind us were comedians Russell Brand and Simon Amstell and when that becomes one of the most remarkable elements of the evening, there are problems.

Bakkhai follows Oresteia in the Almeida’s Greek season. monstagigz gave Oresteia four stars and described it as ‘whetting the appetite for the rest of the season’. But Bakkhai doesn’t quite live up to it despite the acting promise of its main stars. Catch Oresteia as it transfers to Trafalgar Studios 22/8 – 7/11.

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