The Lightning Child

The Globe’s first musical has garnered mixed reviews, with some audience members slamming it and others praising it to the skies. Maybe it’s because I’ve already seen one unique and modern take on the Bacchae (in Northampton a while ago) but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The Bacchae is the story of Dionysus, god of wine (perfect for our modern times, then) who plots revenge on humanity for failing to worship him. This version by Che Walker follows that story as far as it goes, but also adds different set pieces and subplots, giving the impression of a variety show. If these don’t always fit together as well as they might, they still provide a fascinating commentary on humanity.

From the beginning, you know that this is going to be different. The play opens in the 1960s with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin about to head into space, despite the entreaties of Armstrong’s wife. On reaching the moon, the astronauts get more than they bargained for when they encounter the Ladyboy Herald (a super Jonathan Chambers), who proceeds to narrate the tale of Dionysus (the charismatic Tommy Coleman) – the ‘Lightning Child’ – against a background from which the white drapes have vanished to reveal colourful scenery and energetic musicians.

The main thread of the story is bawdy, naughty and raucous, with glittering costumes and plenty of flesh on display – not to mention Dionysus’ luxuriant locks (of which I remained rather jealous, even when I found out he was wearing a wig). I loved Bette Bourne and Geoff Aymer as foul-mouthed Teiresias and Cadmus, on the way up the mountain to worship Dionysus and relive their youth. Clifford Samuel too gave a great portrayal of the uptight Pentheus.

Of the subplots, my favourite was a sad tale of two drug addicts and their pet dog, with standout performances from Philip Cumbus and Harry Hepple. In another, more humorous tale, a conceited violinist advertised for a new housemate but ended up clashing with her new ‘friend’.

The music for the show, which was catchy and atmospheric if not outstandingly memorable, was provided by Arthur Darvill. Some of the singing wasn’t that great, but the dancing was good and the general atmosphere of excitement was infectious.

Not a perfect play, then, but a lively, entertaining and exciting one. Give it a go, if you don’t mind a bit of gore.

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