The Bacchae in the Modern World

Deputy features editor Cate Hanlon chats with Gabriele Uboldi, director of The Bacchae, about his meta-theatrical play, societal collaborations, and the role of classics in the modern world.

Photo Credit: Anna Smith

The Saint: What prompted you to put on this play?

Gabriele Uboldi: I’ve always loved Greek tragedies. I went to a particular kind of high school that involved studying Latin and Ancient Greek, and so I did study all of that stuff, both the language and the culture. I studied ancient theatre as well, and I loved it. Actually, for my final project for high school I had to study The Bacchae specifically, so I studied it in great depth and I really knew the play. When I came here, the performing arts environment was really cool and I thought I could do it, so here I am.

TS: And studying something in that much depth didn’t make you hate it?

GU: (laughs) Well, that’s one of the risks of studying something in depth, but no, I actually loved it and I just couldn’t wait to actually make it happen.

TS: What makes this play different from other typical Mermaids productions?

GU: First of all, it’s a Greek tragedy and I don’t think that a lot of people have done Greek tragedy here. It’snot only that, though. It’s not literally The Bacchae by Euripides, it’s a theatrical adaptation that I wrote. It’s partly The Bacchae and partly a discourse on how to deal with ancient theatre in modern days. Does it make sense that we still put on tragedies written more than two thousand years ago?

TS: Can you expand on the meta-theatrical elements of your production?

GU: There’s a theatre company that is putting on The Bacchae, but on the night of the first show, the director has some kind of accident, so he can’t come. The two lead actors decide to put on their own version of The Bacchae. There’s one that wants to make it very traditional, he wants to stick to the text and wear togas, whereas the other one wants to adapt it to our present times and make it talk about current political issues. These two actors are actually the two main characters in The Bacchae. There’s a structured reason why one of them wants to make it political and the other one wants to make it more traditional. It’s a discussion on The Bacchae, on ancient theatre and classics and how we relate to them, as much as it is the play itself.

TS: What prompted you to make this modern take on it, instead of just performing it as it was meant to be?

GU: I am taking a side on this discussion, and my side is that we need to make it modern. It doesn’t make any sense to repeat the play as it was written, without knowing anything about its cultural context. This is a play, after all, and a performance is an inherently social thing. It is important that we study it as it was part of a different culture, but also we need to make it talk about our present time.

TS: Have you had concerns about maintaining the integrity of such an old work and conveying the cultural and historical significances, even though you’re modernising it?

GU: That is one of the issues thatwe have been discussing. Do we havea limit that we cannot go beyond when it comes to making it modern? There is the risk of making something that doesn’t really fit in with the ancient text and what it’s trying to say. I’m not trying to give an answer to this, I’m just trying to say “let’s think critically about this.”

TS: What does a typical rehearsal look like?

GU: Well, it depends on the kind of rehearsal that we are having. One of my favourite kinds of rehearsal is where we actually get to devise, from scratch, what we are going to do with that scene. There are so many ways to interpret things, so we discuss it, we think about it, we make it physical, with a lot of music and dancing. We interact with each other: it’s a collaborative process rather than just me with my ideas saying ‘okay, let’s do this’.

TS: This production is a collaboration between a number of societies. Which societies are involved?

GU: It’s Mermaids, the performing arts fund of the University, and we have Bacchae Soc helping us out, consulting and finding articles. If we have any issues with the Greek text, we can just go to them. We hope that we will be able to organise some events to promote it in the future. Other than that, we have an individual from Dance Soc helping us with choreography.

TS: You are collaborating with the Bacchae Society in putting this on, can you tell us about that?

GU: When I was thinking of what I wanted to say, I realised that there was this society that could help me have a deeper insight into what I was actually doing. We also reached out because we wanted more people to take part in this. We have a Facebook page, and we are trying to talk about the tragedy before it is put on, so that people who are following the page can actually know something about the tragedy before coming to see the play. We have people from the Bacchae Society and from Mermaids writing articles about the traditional play, about how we are dealing with those issues in modern times, and about what it feels like to be dealing with such a classic. Bacchae Soc can help us with things that seem simple, like pronouncing names from the ancient world. It’s more than that, though. It’s interesting to see what people who are actually studying this for a degree think of what my team and I are doing.

TS: Are you expecting that most people who go to see it will have had some prior exposure to it, then?

GU: Not necessarily. I think that the play itself can be seen without knowing anything about The Bacchae. I really want to engage the audience, not only with The Bacchae or ancient theatre, but with culture as a whole. Does it make sense that we study ancient cultures? Will this be helpful in our present times, in political terms, in social terms? I think that one way of engaging the audience is preparing them for the play, as well. So you can come to the play without having heard anything about The Bacchae, but if you have heard something, then we have already involved you in the discussion.

TS: Can you talk more about the role that Dance Soc is playing?

GU: It’s not really the society, just one girl who is part of Dance Soc. We want to do something that’s not so traditional in terms of theatre. We are doing a lot of physical theatre, a lot of dancing. I can’t do physical theatre, I can’t do dancing, so I thought that I could reach out to someone else, who is actually really talented in that. She has really helped us, and I’m really happy because otherwise the play would be very different.

TS: How has it been working with another society? That’s not something that Mermaids usually does.

GU: I think that it is very important and enriching, because I just feel like the University has so much to offer. People always stay in the circle of their own society, but there are so many talented people doing so much and it’s a shame not to use all of it. If there are some people who are actually doing ancient theatre or who are talking about classics, why shouldn’t we reach out to them? I’m expecting people in Mermaids to know more about theatre and people in Bacchae to know more about the actual matter that we are dealing with.

TS: Do you think that there would be potential for other societal collaborations in the future?

GU: Drama is such a wide kind of performing art, it allows you to put in whatever you want, basically. There will always be someone who is really good at something, and someone else who’s really good at something else, so why not put these people together and do something that is even better? Collaboration has helped us in terms of promotion as well as getting an insight with what we wanted to do with our play. I think that it’s been really helpful, and I think that theatre definitely has the potential to collaborate more with other societies. There is a lot of talent in this town, and I think that it makes sense for the people who are doing something creative to reach out to as many people as they can. That will make it an experience that will enrich the whole University, because university isn’t just going to lectures and doing assignments.

TS: Who would you envision coming to see the play?

GU: Anyone, honestly. Maybe people who study classics and haveheard about The Bacchae. Maybe someone else who doesn’t even likeGreek theatre will come to see it and be pleasantly surprised.

The Bacchae will be at The Stage on 24 and 25 November.


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