‘Cross-dressing, drug abuse, internet porn and classical myth’ is how ‘The Lightning Child’ has been billed, in an effort to lure theatregoers to Shakespeare’s Globe’s first ever musical. It also transcends time and place, as scenes jump around from pre-Christian Africa to Billie Holiday’s dressing room.
Confused? Yeah, I hear ya. It’s not by any means a linear approach, but considering the source material, Euripides’s shocking ‘The Bacchae’, that’s not entirely surprising. God of wine Dionysus (Tommy Coleman) comes to the city of Thebes on a mission of revenge. The king, Pentheus (Clifford Samuel), has banned the worship of Dionysus and the two clash, with Pentheus lured in with the promise of watching the women of Dionysus’s cult have sex. The eventual climax to Matthew Dunster’s production is as delightfully gruesome as you would expect from a Greek tragedy.
Unfortunately, this free interpretation by Ché Walker doesn’t stop there. It’s also littered with scenes of different periods that tell smaller, modern stories that attempt to reflect the same kind of destruction that results from Dionysus’s gift of excess. These sections feel out of place and jarring, their relation to the core of the play is abstract and it tries too hard to be clever in what is essentially a panto.
If I’m honest, I don’t really like pantos. They’re garish and obvious, rarely funny, the cross-dressing is played for laughs and it’s all a bit embarrassing. But pantos have an excuse – that’s what they’re written for. Here the original text provides some interesting themes around male femininity and gender roles, but it’s dumbed down for cheap laughs.
The songs – by ‘Doctor Who’ star Arthur Darvill, no less – are somewhat forgettable, with none of them standing out even for their rude lyrics. In fact, my overwhelming feeling when anyone broke into song was to wonder whether I’d fallen asleep and woken up in the audience of a student version of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Some solid performances, but an otherwise disappointing effort.
By Claire Dikecoglu
Claire, 33, is a senior account manager for a social media agency from Spitalfields.. She was selected to write this review as part of the Time Out Takeover – a special edition of the magazine written entirely by readers.