Ben Marshall reviews an original piece of drama as part of the annual MIFTAs festival
Entering the theatre for a play whose title is a relatively unknown word is always fascinating. Audience members possess a sense of open-mindedness and intrigue of the spectacle they’re about to witness – and Hugo Timbrell’s “The Maenad” is a fine example of this.
With its Ancient Greek setting, tone and ideas, the production was an entry in this year’s Miftas. It did deal with a theme (gender) that has already been thoroughly explored in theatre, but despite this, some very impressive performances were demonstrated, with interesting visual and sound techniques, which made for a strong overall delivery.
For the uninitiated, the Maenads were the mythical, female worshippers of Ancient Greek figure ‘Dionysus’, the God of wine, pleasure and ecstasy. Timbrell’s plot presents us with the Maenad, a frustrated female in a male-dominated world where women are merely sex-slaves.
Through a chain of sexual encounters with misogynistic men, the Maenad demonstrates her ability to manipulate males and achieve her goal of redemption for women. Daisy Church, with her powerful, attention-demanding voice, shone a ray of mystery on the Maenad and managed to attribute to her a degree of masculine-style control, which was essential in showing how she was able to defeat the men.
Church’s character was also key in showing some themes of this play; frequent but gentle physical contact exerted on the Girl (Leela Carr-Bond) awoke touching connotations of a mother teaching her daughter the ways of the world, and its dangers.
The beautiful white dresses worn by the two characters further emphasised their similarity and also a supposed purity and innocence of the female kind.
However, in a bizarre u-turn, the final scene has the Maenad extracting the heart of her young companion in an unnerving ritual; indeed Maenads themselves are often perceived as drunk, over-excitable beings, and this final act questions the true intentions of this character and the disturbing methods of escaping a world of female suppression. Slow, almost sinister piano music and a bright red, lustful curtain serving as the backdrop backed up this theory of her controversial nature.
Other notable performances came from Remi Lagache and Andrew Dixon’s dim-witted personalities of ‘Man 1’ and ‘Man 2’ respectively, which provided the humorous bone of the play. Lagache was definitely the crazier of the two, with his creepy gestures, stooped posture and unhealthy obsession with sex, while Man 2 was infinitesimally more controlled, but still laughable in his failed attempts to guide his stupid partner.
A slight niggle for this reviewer is that there was an air of familiarity with key ideas and characters of this play, with various aspects strongly resembling Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, an Ancient Greek sex comedy, which also has a central female figure hitting out against the males. Theatre-lovers may notice these, and possibly more similarities that at times seemed a little too coincidental. Of course only the playwright can state the true extent to which ideas have been borrowed from other works.
Aside from this, the main questions the playwright addressed (‘What makes a man’, and ‘What makes a woman’) are treated well, and it takes a subjective analysis of the action to come up with the answers. Indeed, the men and women take it in turns to be oppressors and the oppressed in this work, and the dim stage lighting put an omnipresent mood of evilness around all the characters. This ultimately means the true positions of each gender in society is down to the individual viewer’s decision, and a good play definitely gives this level of freedom for the audience to decide.