BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

02/04/2013 - 13/04/2013

Production Details

In a time of terrible economic recession, a bankrupt father decides to send his child to University to study Argument under the great Socrates so that when the debt collectors turn up, they can talk their way out of having to pay their bills – after all, everyone knows that if you’re skilled in Argument then hey, you can murder your own brother-in-law and get away with it! 

But no one is prepared for the shocking truths that Socrates and his University are ready to reveal: the world is round! the gods are dead! Fleet Foxes are lame! and rain doesn’t come from aliens weeing on us!

Songs! Dances! Masks! Banjos! Hula-hoop fights! Intense mental anguish! Angry truth-telling! Topical commentary! Biting satire! ‘Free’ wine!* The Bacchanals celebrate their 13th birthday with a brand new production of Aristophanes’ 423BC comedy The Clouds

*‘Free’ wine $5 per glass 

Tuesday 2 – Saturday 13 April 2013, 6.30pm
BATS Theatre: Out of Site, Cnr Cuba & Dixon St
Book: 04 8024175 or 
Tickets: $20 / 15 / Groups 6+ $14 each  

Cast: Julia Harris, David Lawrence, Salesi Le'Ota 

Lighting: Uther Dean
With Additional Jokes: Jonny Potts
Costume: Jean Sergent
Publicity: Brianne Kerr
Set: Bronwyn Cheyne
Crew Assistance: William O'Neil, Charlotte Simmonds, Gareth Farr 

The Bacchanals also wish to acknowledge the support of: Hilary Penwarden, Charlotte Pleasents, Joe Dekkers-Reihana, Eleanor Stewart, Kirsty Bruce, Morgan Rothwell and Alex Greig.

1hr 30min, no interval

A happy birthday thanks to new take on ancient satirical comedy

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Apr 2013

I don’t think I have been to a funnier birthday party than the one now playing at Bats. For their 13th birthday and their 25th show The Bacchanals have chosen a comedy that was first performed in 423 B.C. 

With the usual Bacchanal insouciance this ancient satirical comedy has been modernised and generally mucked about and yet David Lawrence’s adaptation stays true to the play’s original spirit. 

Aristophanes’ plot is simple enough: Strepsiades (David Lawrence) is in debt because of his spendthrift son, Pheidippides (Julia Harrison). To pay off his debts Dad decides to go to Socrates’ academy to learn how to keep his creditors at bay by argument.

He fails and is expelled. So he sends his son instead to learn the devious tricks of lawyers. He listens to a debate between Right (traditional values) and Wrong (the new morality) and chooses Wrong. The son defeats the creditors with slippery arguments and then beats his father who gets angry and decides to burn the academy down.

At Bats, Socrates’ academy is the university, the son is mad about horse racing, and the jokes are a mix of topical and local, some corny, some witty. Downstage, nefarious Wellington property deals, and the National Bank horse crop up as do two characters from The Muppets, not to mention a fundamentalist Christian Japanese monster. My favourite: ‘Are you a graduate?’ ‘Well, I have slept with older women.’

As Socrates Salesi Le’ota performs an enormously long speech about time that is funny, awe-inspiring, interesting, and he deserved all the applause he received when he got to the end of it. Julia Harrison and David Lawrence spar cheerfully with each other in the warm-up introduction and keep the fun-filled atmosphere ticking along nicely all the time, particularly at the finale when a discussion is held about what it all means.

It is the first show I have been to when the audience is handed a programme at the end. The reason: they want the audience to be surprised. You will be. It is also good to know the director prefers to hug us rather punch us in the face. A happy birthday. 


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Satire and surprises aplenty

Review by John Smythe 03rd Apr 2013

Would you believe a Bacchanals classic with only three actors? And yet the publicity promises “Songs! Dances! Masks! Banjos! Hula-hoop fights! Intense mental anguish! Angry truth-telling! Topical commentary! Biting satire!” But then there was a time when the Ancient Greeks were only allowed, by law, three actors per play, so … The more things change …

24-odd centuries ago Aristophanes’ comedies offered satirical comic relief to offset a trio of tragedies by the likes of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. But this rendition of The Clouds follows the Fringe, which was anything but tragic in tone. In a wider context, however, it a timely light-hearted piss-take following four potent Bacchanals productions. Dean Parker’s satirical Slouching Towards Bethlehem (September 2011) preceded three tragedies: Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (November 2011), Parker’s adaptation of Nicky Hager’s Other People’s Wars (April 2012) and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (January 2013).  

While director David Lawrence and The Bacchanals honour Shakespeare’s intentions with contemporaneous productions of his works yet leave the text intact, here Lawrence’s adaptation (with additional gags by Jonny Potts) updates and localises the text almost completely while staying true to Aristophanes’ intentions: to lampoon ‘sacred’ institutions – mostly the university – with lashings of political satire and sexual and scatological humour.

Although Aristophanes – best known for his anti-war satire Lysistrata – is categorised as an ‘old comic dramatist’, he created dramatic conflict and comic outcomes by pitting the old ways of doing things against the new ways.

The central premise is that Strepsiades (David Lawrence) wants his lazy horse-loving son Pheidippides (Julia Harrison) to go to a university presided over by Vice Chancellor Socrates (Salesi Le’ota) and graduate as a lawyer so that he can argue his way out of having to pay his debts: a clear reflection of rich list tax evaders. The more things change …

The notion of ‘baby boomers’ getting their tertiary educations for free then saddling their student children and grandchildren with crippling debt also gets the serve it deserves.

Universities and student lives get such a thorough doing over that it seems essential for this production to tour the campuses of the nation. It would be perfect Orientation Week entertainment.

Because Aristophanes also believed “it was the duty of playwrights/poets to educate as well as entertain” (according to the post-event programme note), Lawrence and Harrison – and later, Le’ota – bookend and interleave the action with lively meta-theatrical discourse which is sometimes as hilarious as the play itself, while giving the show some welcome substance that can be thought-provoking.

For example, I’d never noticed that Greek comedies tend to be named after their Choruses (The Wasps, Birds, Frogs, etc). And isn’t it just a bit spooky that while understanding how the clouds bring rain, thunder and lightning exemplifies ‘new knowledge’ in ancient times, nowadays ‘the cloud’ is where new knowledge is stored?

All sorts of surprises keep the show bubbling through its 90-odd minutes, and I’m not about to reveal them here. Of course it could be tighter and less indulgent but every time such a question arises it is skewered and answered as part of the show, turning the odd longueur into yet more laughter. Even acknowledging its being a bit under-rehearsed raises a laugh.

Yet if you saw it again, knowing what surprises are in store, you may get more from the play itself. Who knows? One thing is for sure: it deserves full houses. 


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