The play tells the story of the god Dionysos and his return to the city of Thebes where Pentheus is king. Dionysos preaches abandonment to intoxication. He takes his followers to a state of ecstasy by means of a wine-induced stupor and the rhythm of song, dance and music. Many of these converts are women, including Agave, Pentheus’ mother. Pentheus wants to restore order to the city, but he is lured into an ambush by Dionysos, where he is murdered and torn to pieces by Agave and the other women, who have been roused to a frenzy. When she awakens from her stupor, Agave realises what she has done. Jan Decorte adapted/rewrote this tragedy in his childlike idiom to create a distilled version consisting of a series of choral songs. Sigrid Vinks plays the savage-tragic Agave. Benny Claessens is the blond young god Dionysos, who drives King Pentheus – the plain-spoken and full-bosomed Sara De Bosschere – to death. Decorte wrote himself the part of ‘the two old blokes’, two curious commentators, Kadmos, Agave’s father, and the blind seer Teresias. Decorte chose Bacchae ‘because it’s so cruel’. His fascination with power runs like a thread throughout his work, and especially the violence by which it maintains its hold.
Just like Wintervögelchen, made in 2008, Bakchai is theatre in its rough, primitive state: the sort of theatre Decorte has been in search of for forty years. In the course of his career, this quest has resulted in a wide variety of forms, genres and styles. He has written mystical baroque plays, and directed the great classic works with an iron hand, including Hebbel’s Maria Magdalena, Goethe’s Torquato Tasso and Shakespeare’s King Lear, but also Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine. He created Live Art before the term had been coined, wrote and staged slapstick comedies and made a whole series of poetic versions/adaptations, in a ‘childlike’ idiom very much his own, of plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Büchner, Sophocles and others. Anyone who ever saw Decorte’s version of Macbeth, called Bloetwolleduivel, will never forget it. He made Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas into a gem of an opera, and staged his Rare Works, several pieces written in madness, including the compelling Dieu et les esprits vivants. Jan Decorte’s artistic work is inseparably linked to his personal life: an intense life, with high peaks and deep valleys from which he always found his way back up, his creativity intact. ‘Je suis en délire tragique, comique et vraiment tout à la fois’. Decorte’s great strength lies in the fact that over all those years he has always managed to transform himself once again into someone new, while at the same time still remaining the same. His work is of priceless significance to Flemish theatre. He has and still does exert a great deal of influence, yet he has never entered ‘the system’. He has always done it his way. Well done! And happy birthday to you, Jan.