The Lightning Child – Space, Time, and Swearwords

I saw The Lightning Child this weekend – and I want to review it, because that’s what I do. I review things. So here’s the thing – it was good. It was sharp, clever, confusing- but amusedly so- and I want to sit down and say lovely things about it. But first, a confession!

This is going to be a biased review.

The performance is wonderful, but the reason that I went to see it is that a friend of mine who I admire and respect very much is playing one of the lead roles. Having said that, even if he wasn’t my friend – I’d still think he owned the world while on stage. Big doors are about to open for him, and I really feel people should take advantage of seeing him on stage while they can.

The play is described as:


History, sex, funk, gender schism, politics, repression, addiction, envy, tragedy and more sex collide in a psychedelic, anarchic remix of The Bacchae for the Globe’s first musical. Where are we? Everywhere. All at once.

In ancient Thebes – or is it contemporary London? – worshippers gather to join the orgiastic rites honouring Dionysus. Only the disapproving, woman-hating Pentheus seeks to put a stop to the fun. Elsewhere, in this ancient/modern city, the addicts Drax and Shug and the musician Louise and her flatmate Antonia are drawn towards their own forms of retribution.

From the inventive and anarchic team who brought The Frontline to the Globe in 2008 and 2009 comes a modern take on Euripides’ The Bacchae, combining crossdressing, drug abuse, internet porn and classical myth, all told with a Shakespearean disregard for the usual conventions of time and place.

The performance opens in the 1960s and deals initially with space travel, and landing on the moon- at which point another world is unearthed (geddit?) This world concerns the warring cousins- the serious Pentheus, and the laid back party animal Dionysus. Intertwined in their story are interludes in which we head back to earth to check into more modern tales of societal issue. Ladyboy Herald informs us that time and order are not really a thing here and that “this shit might not make any sense right now – think about it when you are on the train” so that the audience understands that not everything will be black and white at all times. Note – the swearing in this is out of control, but it adds wonderfully to the humour.

It’s an unexpected performance at the Globe, but it is rip-roaringly hilarious. The moon men are terribly funny- especially in their zero gravity movements – as is Jonathan Chambers as Ladyboy Herald. The house is nearly brought down with his opening dialogue.

The show is well-cast, and I promise I am not just saying that. Clifford Samuel as Pentheus is delicious – angry, chauvinistic, and wonderfully expressionate. He plays off Tommy Coleman’s mischievous and clever Dionysus perfectly. Colin Ryan is fantastic as an easily misled solider, and even more wonderful as his second reincarnation. The dancing in this production is really very good – but Ryan takes it to a whole new level.

Throughout the show, there is a multitude of dancing and singing from this exceptionally talented cast. The female choir harmonise very well, and fill the Globe with their songs. The dancing is decidedly modern, energetic and I would wager a bet that this is the first time ‘twerking’ has taken place on the stage of the Globe!

The performance, lively and light-hearted in the first half, takes a decidedly darker and malevolent turn in the second half – and this is where some characters really shine. Coleman shows a darker, cruel side to Dionysus, and the ‘back on earth’ stories conclude with haunting and cruel morals to each story. These conclusions stun the audience – and Ladyboy Herald is right, there’s a lot to think about on the tube.

This is a clever addition to the summer’s Globe line up. It’s funny and dark in equal turns. It’s modern, it’s edgy, it digs at popular culture, and brings a historical story to light in an appealing and easy to follow evening. It’s a very lively performance, and will surprise you at every twist and turn. You will learn, you will think, you will gasp – but you will also laugh. My god will you laugh.

The Lightning Child is on until 12th October 2013 – book tickets here!



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