Here She Comes: Agave in lockdown
In summer 2020, By Jove Theatre Company staged two digital productions of existing works by the company: Medea and Here She Comes. Medea, a new retelling of Euripides’ play by Wendy Haines, was broadcast live from performers’ homes in lockdown, and was funded by By Jove’s Patreon supporters. You can find out more about the project and Medea in this Open University blog post. Here She Comes was generously supported by the Institute of Classical Studies Public Engagement Grant.
Here She Comes is a spoken word piece telling the story of Euripides’ Bacchae from the perspective of Agave, the mother of Pentheus, who is lured out into the woods and ultimately driven to kill her son by the god Dionysus, as part of his plan to make the Thebans recognise his divinity. In SJ Brady’s powerful retelling, a more modern Agave reflects on the events of this period of her life from the seaside, where she now lives in exile. As she recalls her tale, we are exposed to Agave’s feelings of repression and isolation in her son’s home: the sense that he does not want her to play a role in his life, and that she cannot guide him in his political choices or connect with him on a personal level. She searches for some kind of escape from the suffocating atmosphere, and finds it in the woods with Dionysus and the other bacchants who have been drawn there. Here she discovers the freedom of movement and music that the god provides, but also the darker side of her apparent liberation: in the divinely-induced frenzy, she mistakes her son for a lion and has the women kill him. In the end, she finds herself shunned by society once more.
SJ Brady’s lyrical, powerful poem was first staged by By Jove in 2017 as part of the Season of Violent Women, a collaboration with the Gallery on the Corner in Tooting. On stage, Brady performed surrounded by the ephemera of domestic life captured in a state of decay and a return to nature; audience members sat on tree stumps and cushions, scattered among soil and plants, and were invited to take part in the bacchanal rave by sipping red wine from teacups. For the lockdown production, we opted for an audio-only production, to bring the focus to the intricacy of Brady’s poetry and also allow audience members to listen to the production without necessarily having to sit in front of a screen—something we were already tired of in July 2020. As in the staged production, the atmosphere created by Brady’s writing and performance was heightened by music written and performed by Vivienne Youel, which wove its way among the words and created a sense of intrigue, isolation, or frenzy as the events being related required. For the YouTube presentation of the production, Brady prepared a slideshow of images that drew viewers into a world that straddled modern and ancient, human and divine.
The recording of the production was performed entirely in lockdown, and was itself a very intense experience for Brady and Youel, who have been working together for many years. In her reflections on the project, Brady noted:
[The process of recording the production in lockdown was] pretty lonely if I’m honest. Viv and I have been doing various music, theatre and anything together over the 10 years, but this was the biggest project we have done to date. There’s just something unexplainable about being together, working creatively, feeding off one another in the rehearsal room. That way you’re not just laughing on your own at your mistakes, new trials, new discoveries—all the magical things you discover throughout a creative process. It also really struck me how reliant I became on her music, not just to soundscape, but to communicate with one another on stage—nothing beats it. She makes me a better performer, and enriches my work beyond belief.
You can watch Here She Comes on YouTube or listen to it on Soundcloud until 31st July 2021. You can also watch the post-premiere discussion with SJ Brady, Vivienne Youel, and academics David Bullen and Christine Plastow on YouTube, and listen to a companion podcast with David Bullen and Christine Plastow discussing the stories behind and around the Bacchae on YouTube and Soundcloud. You can find out more about By Jove Theatre Company on our website and Twitter, or become one of our valued supporters on Patreon.
By Jove are very grateful to the ICS for their support of the Here She Comes digital recording project.