"Tasty meze of theatrical beauty"
by Owen Kingston for remotegoat on 28/02/17

Bacchanalia are a new company formed from graduating students of St Mary's University in Twickenham, a little known offerer of Drama School training, but one to watch if this production is any yardstick of the talent on offer.

'Thalia's Taverna' is a work in progress, but a remarkably well polished one. The focus is very much on comedy as this unlikely group of muses leads us through a series of sketches inspired by ancient tales.

The company start as they mean to go on, living up to the promise of their name with a selection of free shots on entry (ranging from the alcohol-free 'Helen' to the 55% 'Hades') and a frenetically energetic opening scene that occupies an artistic space somewhere in between Aristophanes and Benny Hill and certainly resembles a Bacchanalian frenzy. However, the swift gear change to a highly Grecian opening 'ritual' involving masks, paint and various forms of ritual cleansing suggests there is more going on here than just the riotous comedy. There is a keen literary and academic understanding that underpins this whole production and offers a lot more than just a riotous giggle.

Within an hour, the company explores three classic stories: Pinnocchio, Snow White, and Red Riding Hood, with an underlying connecting theme of innocence standing strong against corruption. Of particular note is a brilliant extended monologue in the form of a best-man speech given by the seven dwarves on Snow White's wedding day, delivered with Fo-like skill by the remarkable Amelia Stephenson who switches between the various well-defined dwarves in a heartbeat, and a truly beautifully designed and executed climactic sequence telling the story of Red Riding Hood through puppetry, light-play, and a bewildering number of artfully employed glowsticks.

Directors Zoe Flint and Chris Scanlan are to be commended for their beautiful design innovations, and their fresh presentations of very old and familiar tales, but more than anything else they are to be commended for actually having something to say. It is rare to see such a young company speak with such a mature voice and in such a powerful manner. Set against the context of a world that is devouring itself in political and social chaos, a spirited defence of the beauty and power of innocence will give you hope for the future of the theatre, if not the world. Both this company, and the institution that has produced them, are worth keeping an eye on. If you can catch a performance of the refined version of Thalia's Taverna when it goes on tour, do not hesitate to book.

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