The Bacchae tearing Penthius apart with their bare hands. This image was taken in one of the original rehearsals of the Roy Hart Theatre at the Abraxas Club in Hampstead, London in 1969.
Review of the "Bacchae" by Michael Billington
"Anyone who has faithfully studied the experimental theatre troupes whose work has been seen in London during the past two years must have been struck by one thing : the extent to which their methods and approach overlap. It is not immediately easy to tell whether this is because they are are worshippers at the same shrine. Artaud, or because they have independently arrived at similar conclusions about the theatre : either way the core of unity, under the surface variations, is fascinating to observe.
I have just seen, for instance, the Roy Hart Theatre (an English company based on Belsize Park) giving a single performance of their version of "The Bacchae" at The Place in Dukes Road. For the first half of the evening a group of 20 or more acted and reenacted a ritual of death and rebirth, conducted a series of musically accompanied. vocal experiments which produce some unearthly, marrow-freezing sounds and collectively demonstrated an extraordinary physical plasticity. Thus prepared, they launched into a non-realistic, almost impressionist version of Euripedes's play (Dionysos, for instance, was represented by three actors and Agave by a man) in which they tried to communicate its meaning through the isolation of key lines and speeches and through the use of patterned sound and movement.
As an experiment it had a lot in common with Peter Brook's Roundhouse version of The Tempest: the same exhaustive attention to a single phrase, the same emphasis on non-verbalized sound and the same attempt to mould a group into a single entity. It was, in fact, extremely impressive as a demonstration of disciplined communal theatre and such incidents as the death and rebirth ritual, with myriad hands fluttering like leaves in a breeze, were handled with delicate precision. My sole doubt is a familiar one: productions like this depend very heavily on a foreknowledge of the written text. We have, in fact, to rely on old fashioned, verbal theatre to tell us what a play is actually about and to provide us with the necessary background to enjoy experiments in psychodrama of this kind."