DENNIS OF PENGE at The Albany
Euripides may have been one of the inventors of playwriting nearly two and half millennia ago but his works are still relevant, as Dennis Of Penge showed so dramatically at the Albany. All the familiar tropes of Greek tragedy are there in Annie Siddons’ brilliant take on The Bacchae – loyalty, love, ecstasy, hubris, vengeance, suffering, obsession, magic, the implacable nature of the cosmos and the belief that the gods walk among us. And just to make the genre her own she has added a couple of contemporary leitmotifs – therapy and the joy of chicken wings. The result is a freewheeling, funny, heartfelt and fabulous story about Wendy, an overweight, out-of-work, alcoholic Peckham woman, and her fight for what’s right against a system geared to keep her under its thumb. The gods are represented by Dennis, a black, possibly pansexual childhood friend of Wendy who stands in for joy-loving Dionysus, god of the instincts whose sacred creatures include bees. Dennis leads a popular uprising against the rationality of the establishment (the jobcentre and its ghastly boss Pratt) with the help of Peckham’s downtrodden denizens, a squadron of attack-bees and a couple of dinosaurs brought to life after being liberated from Crystal Palace Park. Siddons herself played Wendy, Dennis was played by the multitalented actor, singer, musician and dancer Jorell Coiffic-Kampala and Asaf Zohar, who composed the terrific soundtrack and performed it live, helped voice the rest of the characters, a roll-call that included two gobby geezers who double for the traditional Greek chorus. The three of them created something truly extraordinary through a combination of words, music and their own dazzling charisma to make the divine human and the human divine. This reinvention of an ancient classic was a triumph for Siddons – and another triumph for the Albany.