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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 07:28 GMT 08:28 UK
Prodigal Cumming on his comeback
Alan Cumming in The Bacchae
Cumming's bare backside became one of the images of Edinburgh
Actor Alan Cumming has spoken about the mixed emotions he felt on his return to the stage in Scotland after 16 years.

The Scot performed in Greek tragedy The Bacchae at the Edinburgh Festival, which is poised to open in London.

As a Hollywood star, the 42-year-old lives in the US and has become famous for his roles in blockbusters such as X-Men 2 and GoldenEye.

He told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme that as a result his comeback had been "hyped like crazy".

"When we were at the Edinburgh festival, every magazine you looked at had my face on it," he says.

"It was a big 'prodigal son returning' thing, which was a bit scary because of the weight of expectation, and you hope you don't disappoint people.

"At the same time, there's this grounding thing of being back with people I used to go to drama school with. So it's been a nice combination," adds Cumming.


The Bacchae, written by Euripides in 405 BC, centres on Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.

Having spent much time in Asia, Dionysus returns with his followers - the Bacchae of the title - to put right a family betrayal.

His arrival has a dramatic effect on the women of the city of Thebes, sending them into an ecstatic frenzy.

Alan Cumming
I think that's a misconception about Greek tragedy in general. There's a lot of humour
Alan Cumming

Cumming says that he performs Dionysus as a rock star, with the Bacchae as the backing singers.

And he explained that there were "interesting parallels" between the play's hero and himself.

Cumming said that he had been attracted to The Bacchae both because of its theme and the personnel surrounding it.

"I really liked the idea that someone who had so much power could feel so vulnerable about not being accepted by his family.

"Also, I wanted to work with director John Tiffany, and with the National Theatre of Scotland. This just seemed like the perfect match for everything."

Critics have termed the play "Wacky Bacchae" partly because of Cummings' entrance swinging upside-down in a gold Lame kilt.

New film

But the actor says that any perception that the tragedy has been radically reinterpreted as comedy is incorrect.

"We found that when we were rehearsing, David Greig, who adapted it, said he actually felt he had to take the humour down a little, because it would be getting the wrong response."

"I think that's a misconception about Greek tragedy in general. There's a lot of humour - dark humour, of course - and they used humour about perceptions of men, women and social issues at the time."

Faye Dunaway
Maria Callas has been a long-term project for Dunaway

Cumming - who won a Tony award for his performance in Cabaret - says that he found stage much more exciting and challenging that film.

"You have this visceral reaction from an audience, and I prefer it a lot more as an experience," he says.

"It's like doing an extreme sport - you get a thrill from it you don't get from a normal sport."

Cumming has a new film project lined up for after The Bacchae finishes in London - a biopic of the singer Maria Callas.

The film, based on the book Masterclass by Terrance McNally, is being directed by Faye Dunaway, who will also play Callas. Cumming will play her accompanist.

"She's just so passionate about it. I think she's really great," he said of the actress.

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