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Bakkhai

Published 31 July 2015

What’s it all about?

A Greek god – Dionysus – who acts like a stroppy toddler: ‘You’re not paying me enough attention! I’m going to do something naughty!’ Except, instead of drawing on the walls or smearing toothpaste around the bathroom, he drives the female population of Thebes mad and wreaks a horrendous revenge on its king, Pentheus.

The more philosophical answer to your question? Chaos vs order, male vs female, expression vs repression.

Who’s in it?

Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel give powerhouse performances in multiple roles. I’m not sure there are enough superlatives to describe the way they toy with self-indulgent extravagance like a Greek god with a city’s people, before casually letting it go.

Bond star Whishaw is all effeminate flicks and perfect posture as the spawn of Zeus in human form before transforming into the embodiment of aging wisdom as Tiresias and back to a more bestial, vengeful supernatural being for the finale.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’s Carvel is the picture of political poise and self-repression as a Pentheus desperate to prove his masculine command, and a whirl of uncontrolled fervour and passion as Pentheus’ dervish of a mother.

What should I look out for?

Every scene has a flourish, whether it be unforgettable moments from Whishaw, Carvel and fellow multi-character actor Kevin Harvey, or the often discordant, unnerving presence of the 10-woman chorus of Bakkhai, whose collective performances are as memorable as the males’ individual antics.

In a nutshell?

Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel give near god-like performances in this startling and memorable tale of supernatural revenge.

What’s being said on Twitter?

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Will I like it?

For me, this is a must see. Whishaw and Carvel being given the chance to play big characters opposite each other is a rare theatrical treat.

If you’re not a fan of theatrical extravagance, James Macdonald’s production might not be ideal, but if you embrace the bonkers, it’s a gift from the gods; a good gift, not one that will turn you into an orgiastic lunatic that would rip your offspring limb from limb…

Bakkhai plays at the Almeida Theatre until 19 September. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.

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