"God is dead. Long live....?"
An account of how The 'Roy Hart Speakers' philosophy is reflected
in this particular production of "The Bacchae".
by Dorothy Hart
Euripedes' The Bacchae has been chosen to express our philosophy of Abraxas and the Rope (Abraxas = the creative synthesis of opposites: the rope is a symbol of our method of achieving and containing Abraxas). In Euripedes time some discerning minds disbelieved in the existence of the gods as such, being dimly aware of man's multi-dimensional nature and the meaning of projecting his own passions outside himself, but many less-discerning minds were questioning the existence of these unconscious forces altogether. It is obvious that Euripedes himself was aware of the stark reality of psychological laws and how they worked, and though he may at times appear to cast his gods in a poor light, the danger of belittling their power, the power of unconscious drives, is constantly and compellingly reiterated. The working of psychological laws are as real and ruthless today as ever they were, whilst the dangers of unaware behaviour and blind projection are more terrifying than in Euripedes day because the rope of religion, the idea of a hierarchy, political or otherwise, have been cast aside and replaced by nothing, and larger masses of people are losing an awareness of any need to have a rope to contain their multi-dimensional natures. A warning shout is urgently needed NOW. We come to "set up such a peel of sound as shall make Thebes (the world festival at Nancy) turn to look". We have had to present the urgency of our message in dream-form, the tool the unconscious mind uses when it most urgently needs to warn our waking selves of the dangerous paths we walk. The story of Pentheus is seen in psychological terms: the disintegration of his persona follows a pattern typical of mental breakdown: the ego is killed tor the sake of further development. The general impact of the production should be to give the tidy analytical mind a shock into multi-dimensional awareness; a sense of hidden connections that need further scrutiny to be understood; and a sense of danger. The incorporation of Euripedes' play within a dream of the cast's own making came about as a natural growth within the framework of our philosophy, which is to keep all doors open to a rooted growth process and to build bridges between apparent opposites, particularly between the conscious and unconscious.
1. Conscious and Unconscious. "You do not know what life you live, or what you do, or who you are", Dionysus tells Pentheus, and this is true also of many people today, who would no doubt answer Dionysus in the same fatuously linear fashion as Pentheus does in the play. The human-being holds a thousand contradictions within his nature. In order not to be caught out unawares these must be explored, made known to him, and then roped to a creative process and purpose. The most obvious split in Western man is between his -
2. Head and Body. We grow biologically to adulthood along paths mapped out for us by centuries of evolutionary striving, the mind scarcely aware of the significance of this. It is an unconscious process carried out faithfully by our bodies. In our work we aim to get our minds to be conscious of every part of our bodies, and our bodies to express more awaredly what we carry in our minds. One of the many methods used in this play is to be seen in the constant interplay between the upright position of Homo sapiens and the supine position experienced by his progenitors, between an infinite variety of mass touch and the experience of individual separation. There are several instances of 'heaps on the floor' - first the amoebic mass at the opening of the day. Here we imagine the physical feel of the amoebic and effort required to pull out a separate individuated existence, and this imagining is given a chance of embodiment by simulating in our own bodies something of the nature of that amoebic experience. A later heap is the heap of snakes; each body can experience the feeling of friction as it seeks to move out of the 'sea' onto dry land, and a sensation of the desperate need for legs which can be felt bodily (it is no idle pun to say that the performer feels the meaning physically of the need to 'under-stand'). The weightlessness of body experienced by the human embryo and by the astronaut is imagined and felt for in the speech “Oh to set foot on Aphrodite's island". Other instances of constant awareness of touch in finger, elbow, backbone, or toe occur throughout the play linked to different emotions, the hard touch of aggression (the Kali scene or the carrying of Pentheus) the huddling touch of insecurity (the descending into hell described by T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men") and so on. This emphasis on educating the sensitivity of our bodies has been the natural outcome of the first beginnings of our researches into the nature of one embodied human voice, the discovery that in the extending of this voice height is based on depth and a link must constantly be maintained between head and body, between the accepted domains of -
3. Male and Female: the 8-octave voice. The inclusiveness of the eight-octave approach to life is the foundation of our whole philosophy. By being inclusive, a philosophy is not necessarily permissive. A variety of sounds, ugly and beautiful, are used by the chorus and by the main characters, both in speech and song, but these sounds are not used arbitrarily. They seek to be the handmaiden to the meaning of each phrase of the play, the meaning as experienced by each individual concerned. Both male and female performers interchange with 'male' and 'female' sounds, and this is our rebellion, as distinct from the rebellion of the hippies or homosexuals, against the previous generations' over polarisation of the sexes. The long-haired men, the male-voiced masculine women are outward expressions of what is fundamentally an inner problem - the search for the hermaphroditic personality in each one of us. The rowdiness and range of pop music, the gaudiness and brashness of Carnaby Street, the 'trips' of L.S.D. and other drugs all have their counterpart in our experiencing ourselves within the discipline of embodying the voice. We aim at disciplined variety, not licence. The play has on different occasions been enacted from beginning to end, or in large sections, in complete gibberish, yet anyone familiar with the original words of the play, as the cast themselves are, could still follow sentence by sentence the original sequence of the play. Having studied the words once (see section 4, Script and Non-Script), we are no longer bound by the word, but only by the deepest meaning of the word to which all sounds, movements and expressions are subservient, and although this meaning may be different for different individuals, we have yet sought by group sensitivity to rope it into a corporate whole. The only way we have found it possible to do this is through the continuity of our experience of each other and the play.
4. Script and Non-Script. The original script of Philip Vellacott's translation into English has been learned in its entirety by the majority of the present cast, a discipline to which they were subjected over a year ago. In the beginning was the word. This was the backbone of the production. As the production grew and gave flesh to this backbone, the value of the non-script became recognised. Different members of the cast were encouraged to express their, own meaningful associations with any part of the play – sometimes interpreting song, an excerpt from a poem, a single word image, short and long quotations from topical articles in the Press with medical, psychological, political or artistic slants. The play had taken on the dimensions of dream, fusing Euripedes' time with our time and all time: for in a dream seemingly incongruous images drawn freely from the storehouse of the great Unconscious are brought together in clusters, of meaningful association. Rehearsals entered upon a very personal phase where someone's significant dream was recalled, some personality clash during the day was referred to and possibly re-enacted, someone's aura or facial expression stopped the action of the play and a spontaneous by-play was grafted onto the theme, and all this by the genius of dream logic, which at first glance might appear to bring up completely irrelevant material but, which on further appraisal was found always to be moving towards greater enlightenment of the universal truths contained in "The Bacchae". As rehearsals progressed the connections between personal problems and problems of more world-wide significance became more apparent, and an awareness of current trends in our society seemed ever-present. The multi-dimensional nature of the play as a ritual of growth had become firmly established, and the form had to be dream form. The script of Euripedes still remains intact with only one or two vertebrae removed as the spine was a little unwieldy to suit the speed of modern life (Teiresias' first long speech and the final, long speech of Dionysus have been severely cut down, and occasionally the whole of the final 'after-death' scene is omitted or considerably curtailed, according to the categoric needs of the presentation at any one performance). The non-script consists of some 'addenda' originally spontaneous and now adapted and 'set', and also of spontaneous material, new to each performance. This keeps the production in a permanently growing state and ensures that each performance is a cathartic ritual relating specifically to the PRESENT situation.
5. Dream 'logic' and 'reality' of waking experience. The importance of dreaming has always been 'felt' throughout history, but in our time scientific research has proved it to be an utter necessity to healthy psychological balance. This cast's philosophy embraces a continual study of each and everyone's dream life, and this is always related to the waking situation. This is one of several ways in which we try to bring more of the unconscious into consciousness, and a growing respect for the wisdom of the 'sleeping' mind that manipulates its dream material has led us to reflect certain aspects of dream logic in this production. Some dreams have an archetypal significance that can be aesthetically apprehended by all. Euripedes' "The Bacchae", a poet's inspired dream, falls into this category. But some dreams, extremely potent for the dreamer, may be more untidy. Life as a whole is very untidy. We believe that the bias of the dreamer within the dream is significant. The personal, the individual association, often more aggravating and inartistic than the universally acceptable images, gives a necessary definition - a real body and boundary to dream generalisation. Our philosophy believes in personal relationship as the foundation for better social relationship and for better 'Theatre' and Art; i.e. we adhere to Buber's view that "the highest form of Art is the I/Thou relationship" (face the family tension rather than set off for Africa, India or Israel for instance - stop running and grow by relating to the present situation with all its niggling inconveniences). The only clear, emphatic and reiterated advice that Dionysus offers to Pentheus is "STAY WHERE YOU ARE". Out of this philosophy the concept of a "dreamer" for our production was evolved. A particular performer was chosen to represent the bias of the dreamer within the dream and her role was to 'stamp' her personal associations or interpretations (in her case often reflecting her Christian upbringing) on the action of the play at any moment she chose. These interruptions could vary from performance to performance, so that the rest of the cast would never know when she would 'chip' in, nor exactly what she would say or do. This helped to increase group sensitivity. No set loopholes in the script were left for the 'dreamer' to use, so that her decisions to act had to be quick and definite and the moment of her plunging in between the words of the script had to be timed as a child times the moment to jump in between the swings of the skipping rope held by two friends. The cast had to adjust to this plunge, sense when the spontaneous interruption was over, and carry on with the original play. Although many of the dreamer's interjections came to be accepted as part of the 'set' production, her words were never written and learned, but always allowed for change for better or worse. The associations and interpolations of other members of the cast have been agreed upon and set in general, but it is foreseeable that they too might add spontaneously to the plenitude of associated material if the organic moment for this offers itself. These interruptions can have the effect of preventing both cast and audience from 'losing themselves' in the action of the play in the interest of a more embracing awareness, and they also serve as a tiny pointer to the abundance of association that any individual mind can bring to bear on any theme to which he directs his attention - helping to inculcate the multi-dimentional rather than the linear view of life. The role of the dreamer ropes the general to the specific, and those who are likely to be the most aggravated by this role are likely to be the most bigotted and egotistical in their own personal opinions. Dreams in general serve the function of breaking up the ego into more universal forms, attempting to turn the dreamer from an egoist into an artist. In this production, the 'dreamer' sometimes stands separate from the rest of the action, sometimes shows &n out-of-the-dream awareness, sometimes fuses with the action, and all this is based on her own biased interpretation of the play. This also occurs in dreams in general, and the role of the dreamer within his own dream is rich in significance for those interested in self-study.
To achieve the break-up of the ego, the dream world makes great use of fusion, metamorphosis and doubling-up of characters - mixtures of male and female, animal, vegetable and mineral. This characteristic has come about also quite spontaneously with our production, because we started from the premise, as a dream does, of bringing out the psychological meaning for us (and thereby, we hope, others) of the play we are enacting. So male and female roles are interchangeable for meaningful reasons Agave is played by man, because she is possessed by her animus. Dionysus in his 'mortal disguise' is played by two women and a man, whose personal histories in real life have a bearing on the role each has come to take in this production. It was a seeming chance that these three particular people were cast in their respective roles, but the decision to represent the 'mortal man disguise' by three was calculated. When a god goes about in disguise as a mortal that is the moment of discernment for all who come in contact with him. Pentheus, Agave and Cadmus are the three main sufferers in this tragedy, and each for the very potent psychological reasons. Pentheus was unaware of the importance of the feminine principle and in denying it any part of himself, it eventually takes possession of him unconsciously and leads him to his death at the hands of a woman. Agave was unaware of her wrong relationship to her male side and in her cynical opinionated mis-judgments of her sister, Semele, she behaved true to her modern counterpart, who would today be termed "an animus-ridden bitch". She too becomes possessed by unconscious male strength, and murders her own son. Cadmus has a wrong relationship to his dark side, his aggressive energy. Before the action of this play he had killed the Gastalian serpent that belonged to Ares, God of War, unaware that it had anything to do with Ares. It is significant that he marries Ares daughter, Harmonia, but this did not help him for personal integration cannot be achieved by marrying one's 'opposite' (only a precarious harmony), just as knowledge of the body is not obtained through sex or exercise alone (there is no one-octave therapy for the mind-body split which could be anywhere near sufficient to cope with the store-house of energy that is the human being). Cadmus' words throughout the early part of the play show him to be still too much of a pacifist for dubious reasons, with an over-sentimental concern for family rather than universal values. Because he has a distorted view of the function of the creative beast in himself, he is forced by Ares (see the final prophecy of Dionysus) to live out a life of dark destruction in serpent form - and only after that is he promised immortality among the stars. The three aspects of humanity denied by our three tragic characters are male, female, and. the catalystic serpent. Hence the 'mortal disguise' of Dionysus is represented by a male, a fair long-haired female, and a second female cum snake. This snake is the restless spirit of man that actually desires the catalistic experience that leads to knowledge of good and evil, that quality which is embodied in the story of Adam, Eve and the Serpent. We are usually led to the particular catalistic experience that fits our own particzilar natures through the intuitive feminine side. So this part of the Dionysian disguise is played by a woman. She speaks frequently with a marked German accent, because in our time Germany has played perhaps the most obvious role of the catalistic serpent from whose experience we can all learn. The male part of the Dionysian disguise represents the male principle in each one of us and which, if seperated from the rest of the trilogy, becomes brutish, Pentheus tended to identify completely with this side, and the chorus describe him as brute with bloody jaws aga-oe, slander 'of his human shape" and then he sees Dionysus as a but! this is only his own projection. The god mirrors the state of his own soul, and his first reference to Dionysus, before he has even seen him, is to call him "a lion". It is not only poetic justice, but characteristic of the subterranean workings of unconscious projection, that Pentheus mother kills him thinking he is a 'lion' and she strokes his severed head as if it were that of a young bull-calf. Other instances of' one character being represented by two or more performers have 'occurred' during the action of the play, usually for the Herdsman and for the Messenger, and Pentheus has occasionally been represented with a shadow woman, according to the aura emanating from him at any particular performance.
In dreams a character sometimes changes face and the people a dreamer uses to play different roles in his dream are chosen for two reasons, one subjective, telling us something about the dreamer himself, and one' faintly or even strongly objective, telling us something about the person who has been chosen to play this role. Because the dream is intent" on bringing out psychological nuances, emphasising the growth of understanding one role can therefore change from one known, or unknown character into another. This fact has played its part in our production: sometimes one member of the cast has been replaced in his or her role by another member of the cast mid-play - and for reasons that throw light both on the development of the production itself and on the development of the individual taking part in that production. The personality development of each performer is not a static but a growing entity and this is allowed for by keeping the casting in a fluid state. This is only possible because of the early discipline whereby the whole cast learned the words of the whole play, but the re-casting is not ordered arbitrarily or as a test of "word-knowledge". Re-casting only occurs when it is psychologically an enlightening experience for all.
6. The Theatre and Everyday Life. The lack of scenery, costume and 'props' is deliberate, as we wish to narrow the gap between the theatre and everyday living. The play has frequently been enacted to small audiences in our everyday dress, without losing its effect. An attempt is made to make the audience feel that the actors are not separate from them in a picture frame, but are simply the active part of the whole assembly, enacting for them the ritual of the growth process. The performers do not wish to appear as efficient illusion-builders, but as human beings exposing their humanity to other human beings, not for entertainment, but for the enlightenment of all. Newcomers to our group have been incorporated in the play on a second or third acquaintance with it, and this in front of an audience of strangers to them. We risk what little 'harm' this might do to the 'artistic' merits of the production, believing that the valid human experience is the basis of our art. The Bacchae is a cathartic ritual for all the Pentheus-characters, stiff-necked and unbending, of which our society is predominantly composed.
The piano has been chosen as the only background orchestration other than the human voice, because it is part of the history of the group's training, and because it has a very wide set of associations for most people of European background - childhood associations, amateur productions, professional expertise in classical music, jazz or 'pop' music, family parties, chapel choir practice - and it is one of the musical instruments with the widest range of pitch and expression. The rope is the only other 'prop', chosen because it lends itself so particularly fluidly to the dream-form our production has adopted. It binds and expresses throughout the production, taking the part of snakes, the ramparts of the city wall, and other active forms. At the same time it has meaningful associations on many levels of thought, from the common pun to deep psychological symbolism. Like human energy, when it is held it has LIFE, otherwise it flops when it is stretched to its utmost limits, its whole length is capable of an awareness of minute vibrations. Only since using the rope in this production has the full richness of its associations with our method of working been realised, as we seek to sound every strand in the length of our bodies.
7. Producer and cast. Roy Hart has been the main producer, inspired leader and task-master, but rehearsals have as often been led and the production vastly influenced by others, Robert Harvey in particular. The group as a whole and an x-quality arising out of the rehearsals themselves are the producer. Roy Hart usually confines himself to conducting and leading the background orchestration, but he is as likely to enter in on the action of the play in some other role as any member of the cast is likely to put forward a suggestion which will alter the tenor of the whole production. This is something beyond democracy and it is rooted in self-discipline.
8. Our relation to the country in which we live, England, and to other countries.
England has been a great world power, renowned for 'fair-play' and a certain sense of justice. She is now having to adjust to a role in which she is having to do for herself a great deal of what used to be done for her by the peoples of her empire. The members of our cast have come together from different parts of the world and we all now live in London and take part in the daily rat-race for survival. We are all very aware of our roots in history and why it is only in England that this kind of coming together could have occurred, whilst we know the reasons for our giving our first public performance of this production in France, rather than in England, are also germane to the nature of our two countries. We do not take part in student riots or take an active role in politics in general, but we are forming policies that foretell the coming social structure. The Greeks put on masks: we are taking them off, and showing you who we really are.
People as a whole are afraid of change and inexperienced in the art of sudden adaptation but the producer in this case gives his cast and the audience an opportunity to experience frequently the essence of surprise, change and spontaneous adaptation. The aim is to increase sensitivity towards each other and to the changing situations in the world around us (in family situations, business, politics, world trends). Values are constantly changing in the world around us and we have to take sides if we are to mature, Cadmus and Teiresias, though old and grounded in tradition, had the sensitivity to recognise the 'New Order' when it came into their orbit. The Bacchae like numerous dreams experienced by people in every generation, is about growth, change, necessary death and rebirth. The necessity to kill is, in some situations, it is as hard to face up to the necessity to die. In our discipline we are trained in the creative use and right time for ruthless action towards each other and towards ourselves. We quite consciously use The Bacchae as part of this training. The Dionysian ritual was meaningful to the Greeks and related to their view of life as a whole. We have tried to retain this quality. We attempt during every performance to 'die' to that self which takes the Present for granted as likely to carry out our preconceptions for us. We do not make changes and confusion for the sake of shocking each other and the audience for some masochistic purpose, but for the sake of progressing towards the future both of life and of theatre, we must face up to these hardships and learn the meanings behind these great gifts from the other ancient world into today's world.
Doroth Hart's Index page
Images of the performance
Footnote by Paul Silber
Dorothy Hart was Roy's wife for 22 years before they both died in a car accident whilst on tour with "L'Economiste". Dorothy studied English Literature at Cambridge University. Her understanding of her husband's work was profound. Her abillity of expressing herself through the medium of writing was far in excess of anyone else in the theatre hence she was always happy to write the programme production notes for all the work we ever did in those days.
It must be said that the performance of "The Bacchae" was the first and the best performance the RHT ever did! There are several reasons for this; here they are. 1 Roy Hart was the principal director. 2 the rehearsals took place over a period of two years. 3 The entire cast was present at all the rehearsals; even though they took place only three times a week. 4 The discipline was so well enforced that the entire cast not only learnt the whole script; but could also deliver it BACKWARDS. Hence the later performances were called the "Frontae" (at the Round House Theatre). What was the result of all this work? We were able to move collectively as a single body and spontaneously in unison in a way that had only ever been done in the ancient times of Greek theatre.
You will see that at the top of the page there are the words "Roy Hart Speakers". This was the precursor to the current title "Roy Hart Theatre". That title occurred the following year 1969, the name was to last for the next fifty years. It was under the name of Speakers that the theatre performed in the Festival of Theatre in Nancy, France. The festival was under the direction of Jacques Lang who later became the French Minister of Culture. The "Speakers" had reserved a carriage for the train journey across France. Accordingly the SNCF had put a notice on the window of the carriage. The notice read "This carriage is reserved for the "Roy Hart Squeakers"" This marvellous error has remained a point of humour ever since.