The Tarragon Theatre is currently in its last show of the season, Hawksley Workman and Christian Barry’s The God That Comes, produced by 2b Theatre Company. A one-man cabaret of Euripides’ Bacchae, this is a stirring and often hilarious work.
Hawksley Workman is in fine form as he narrates the story, as well as playing the king, the king’s mother, and the god Bacchus. Workman changes characters by making minimal costume changes, putting on a hat or a boa; and by changing his voice, whether by switching registers (he sings in a lovely falsetto as the mother), or by singing into a megaphone (as the militaristic king). To reinforce the changing characters, three mannequin heads along the back of the stage are lit in turn to suggest who’s singing. It’s a helpful touch, and Workman is effective in acting out the different roles – I might normally have found this constant shifting of characters rather difficult to follow, but I had no problem here.
Nearly the entire show is sung, and Workman accompanies himself throughout, using a loop to fill out the sound. The effect is atmospheric and highlights the otherworldliness in the story, especially when the king, wearing a dress, infiltrates the Bacchanalia (barred to men – oh, my!). Workman plays a wide variety of instruments, from percussion (vividly depicting the Bacchanalia) to ukulele (days later and I’m still singing ‘Ukelady boy’), culminating in a harmonica solo that left the audience charmed (read, it was one of the best dirty jokes I’ve encountered in a show).
The show isn’t perfect, by any means: the characters in this adaptation are rather flatter than Euripides originally wrote them, and if you’re looking for a plot that unfolds at an even pace, this won’t be the best night out for you. This is definitely a show in which the development is more important than the end point, and the audience is told the plot as a prologue to the main story. Nevertheless, the staging and effects are well considered and executed, and Workman is a consummate performer. He carries the show with ease, and his musicianship is enviable. I wish I could sing out like that for 75 minutes (without intermission)!
The show is well suited to the Tarragon Theatre. As a performer and an audience member, I prefer intimate venues that make the audience an integral part of the production, and the Tarragon is the right sort of space for that communal energy, and the small tables at the front of the venue were perfect for the cabaret style.
The God That Comeswill be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 13-24. This is definitely one worth catching.