Friday, 7 November 2008
ἥκω Διὸς παῖς...
In The Times today, Caitlin Moran remarked on the resemblance between British actor Jaye Davidson ('The Crying Game') and Barack Obama. I totally fail to see it myself, but it reminded me how badly I wanted Davidson to play Dionysus in a film version of Euripides's Bakkhai, which at one point I had, like, all worked out. The messenger-speech was to be cut - I hate that tedious convention of the genre - in favour of actually showing the night-time dismemberment of Pentheus by the Maenads on Mount Kithairon. Pentheus' tearing asunder was going to be soundtracked by Bjork's 'All is Full of Love'. (Imagine the magical first seconds of the song as the camera pans though the moonlit pine-woods, before the horror unfolds.)
Davidson's intriguing sexual ambiguity is just right for a play in which androgyny and the necessary reconciliation of opposites in one being is so foregrounded. Dionysus is everything which elides, dissolves, loosens: the universal solvent, Plutarch's hugra phusis, 'watery nature'. Alien and yet mysteriously native, male and yet feminine, god of things that seem real and yet are not (life-enhancing theatre, life-destroying psychosis), at once devastator and renewer, cosmic principle and oriental cult-totem, Dionysus is one of the most fascinating gods in the Greek pantheon. How can that huge, impersonal force in nature which pounds and grinds and churns all flesh to sopping mulch appear onstage, delicate and perfumed, followed by a band of god-intoxicated women, like another Krishna among the Gopis, but smiling an infinitely sinister smile?.