Kick-start this cracking idea

PUBLISHED: 15:52 14 January 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

CONFRONTATIONAL: In Blood: The Bacchae.

CONFRONTATIONAL: In Blood: The Bacchae.

WATCHING capoeira on YouTube, you can see where the goal-scoring celebrations of some black footballers have come from, writes Edward Martyn.

WATCHING capoeira on YouTube, you can see where the goal-scoring celebrations of some black footballers have come from, writes Edward Martyn.

In its classic form, the balletic leaping and somersaulting, combined with kick-boxing leg sweeps and drum-based music, create an athletic dance for two men to perform amidst a circle of peers. In the open air, it is a relaxed, exuberant display of personal grace and athleticism, but in the gymnasium it becomes a machismo sporting contest between two rivals.

So where does this collide with The Bacchae by Euripides?

Using the whole open space of the Arcola Theatre, director Noah Birksted-Breen summons nine performers to assemble in front of a backdrop of stacked wooden pallets. Led by master-drummer Pedro Lima, they introduce us to the world of post-slavery Brazil.

Greg Hicks, Shakespearean actor and long-time aficionado of capoiera, takes on the role of the racist, bullying, cocaine-snorting police chief Gordilho.

Daon Broni is wonderful as Besouro, a black wide-boy, with beautifully tailored clothes and a perfect command of his toned body. He delivers a moving, poetic portrait of his ancestors' journey from Africa to slavery in Brazil. Besouro's mother was shot dead by the police chief, but according to the capoeira way, revenge is not achieved by brutality, but rather by cunning and mental agility.

The play is a series of confrontational conversations between the separate communities sharing the same space, and a perfect example of asymmetric warfare.

Cova, the white haired ex-police chief, played by David Gant, berates Gordilho: "You can't control what you don't understand" as Gordilho tries to overawe Besouro with his drawn pistol and racist taunts. Besouro slips away and drinks blood in preparation for a showdown, while chiding his street compadre: "Your body moves like water - why can't your mind do the same thing?"

All this would be fine if the director could find a way to tone down the histrionics of Messrs Hicks and Gant, and integrate the raw talent of the younger performers, who are all at sea with this high-blown phraseology. A nicely choreographed capoeira ensemble number shows off the talents of the performers.

There is a cracking show here, if an experienced director can take the lyrical script by Frances Viner, the contrasting talents of the disparate performers, and the music and excitement of the capoeira and weld them seamlessly together.

What on earth Euripides has got to do with all this, the gods alone can tell.

Meanwhile, you can sample a taster of this extraordinary martial art form in Croydon or New Eltham with Danca Da Liberdade, Yo Brothers.

In blood: The Bacchae is at the Arcola Theatre, in Arcola Street, Kingsland, until January 31. Box office: 0207 503 1646.

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