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Review: Bacchanalia by Sleepwalk Immersive (Crypt, Bethnal Green)

Four and a half years in the making, wunderkind producers Sleepwalk Immersive debut an outstanding adaptation of The Bacchae that shows off only a fraction of their full potential.


Immersive Rumours received a complimentary ticket to this show and as such, are disclosing this information before our review. They have had no input in the below and all thoughts are our own.

Promo Still for Bacchanalia

Photo: Sleepwalk Immersive


Initially conceived as a one-man show designed for a single audience member, the development of Bacchanalia has spanned a period of four and a half years. Expanding and growing with each new iteration, it took form last year in a series of R&D performances in Central London. Off the back of those shows, Bacchanalia has now taken over Crypt in Bethnal Green for a two-week, sold-out run.


Based on The Bacchae by Euripides, Bacchanalia tells the story of the Greek god Dionysus as they seek revenge on the family members who have denied their divinity. It's an intense and intimate immersive production, welcoming just 40 audience members per performance.


Photos: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


Set in 1960's Thebes, Bacchanalia ties the Greek tragedies' themes of rebellion and societal resistance to change to the moral panic and hysteria that surrounded hippie counter-culture that came to define the era. Bridging the gap between these ancient narratives and more contemporary events, it's a thoughtful and innovative approach to storytelling that pays off in spades.


With a cast made up of Jordan Ajadi, Ruth Howard, Christian Loveless, Fionn Cox-Davies, Peter Broughton, Fania Grigoriou and Maya McQueen, it's a show full of exceptionally talented performers. The quality of this cast is a testament to the ambition of Sleepwalk Immersive, who have produced a show that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best immersive stagings London has seen in recent memory.


Peter Broughton as Dionysus in Bacchanalia

Photo: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


Peter Broughton's portrayal of Dionysus - the God of wine and pleasure - is equal parts cult leader and dazzling showman, carrying themselves with all the bravado and self-assuredness of a God returning to claim what is theirs. While their push and pull with Christian Loveless' buttoned-up Mayor Pentheus is the driving force for the story as the two vie for control of Thebes, ultimately it's a futile effort for Pentheus - who all but lost the war the moment their cousin Dionysus arrived.


Photos: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


Broughton spends much of the show flanked by Jordan Ajadi and Ruth Howard - the chorus of Bacchae who hang on Dionysus' every word. With their pedigree as performers well established, it's no surprise that Ruth Howard's work as Movement Director is excellent, with their choreography and movement on display throughout the show a great reflection of the uninhibited, free-spirited feel of 1960's counter-culture.


Rounding off the cast are Fania Grigoriou as Agave and Fionn Cox-Davies as Tiresias, who both portray their roles with a weight worthy of the source material. Notably, Grigoriou's portrayal of Agave undergoes a poignant transformation throughout the show, reaching a powerful climax as she descends into madness, convinced that Pentheus is a lion whom she then fiercely attacks.


Ruth Howard in Bacchanalia

Photo: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


Inevitably, Bacchanalia is going to be compared to Punchdrunk's work. With a cast made up largely of the immersive juggernauts alumni, and with a Greek tragedy as the source material it's an easy leap to make. The show wears its influence on its sleeves - anyone who experienced The Burnt City will be able to draw numerous parallels between the style of Punchdrunk's work and Bacchanalia. From the choreographed dance sequences to the strategic lighting cues and use of music, Sleepwalk's show feels like a concentrated embodiment of everything people have come to love about Punchdrunk's work.


Bacchanalia Production Still

Photo: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


It'd be dismissive to say that this is little more than imitation though - Bacchanalia builds upon the inspiration taken from Punchdrunk and combines it with a lot of the most compelling elements of the immersive medium. Upon entering guests are offered outfits, as well as food and drink. Scattered throughout the space are dozens of documents and photos - including references to other immersive shows and mementos from audience members who backed the show on Kickstarter. All of this not only builds out the world further, helping the walls of the venue fade away, but demonstrates Sleepwalk Immersive's commitment to prioritising the audience's experience in every aspect of the show's creation.


There are also moments of real humour throughout - including the use of a puppet bearing a striking resemblance to Grigoriou that was one of the funniest and most unexpected moments we can recall having seen in an immersive production.


Bacchanalia Production Still

Photo: Ivy Corbin (@ivy_corbs)


Artistic Director Sebastian Huang commented during our recent interview that this version of the show is only around 1/4 of what Sleepwalk has already envisioned and written for Bacchanalia.


Given the success and response to this short run, it will no doubt return in the future at a grander scale. In its current form, this is one of the best new immersive shows of the year, so those yet to visit Thebes can rest assured that when the show does return, it'll be a sight to behold.


Sleepwalk Immersive has captured lightning in a bottle with Bacchanalia. The fact that this version of the show is only a fraction of their overall ambition for the story is a marvel, and we can't wait to see where it goes from here.


★★★★½

 

Bacchanalia runs at Crypt in Bethnal Green until Saturday 25th November 2023.

You can stay up to date with Sleepwalk Immersive via their mailing list or Instagram.



1 Comment


paolothomas
Mar 12

Thank you for this fascinating preview.


I saw the show this evening: blown away, particularly by how the incredible performers brought so much energy and fluidity to such a small (intimate?) space.

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