Antigone

Tue 25th – Sat 29th October 2011

reviews

Lise McNally

at 00:21 on 26th Oct 2011

3agrees

1disagrees

Richard Keith and Simon Haines’ version of Antigone probes the nature of conflict; between duties, between decisions, even between the two halves of the self. Unfortunately, the characters’ conflicts were with the script as often as they were with each other.

In what appears to be symptomatic of the play’s odd reluctance to declare for one age or another (the women wear Grecian dresses and the men modern army coats) Keith and Haines’ translation combines a largely modern dialect with an archaic syntax. While it is admirable to pay homage to the play’s poetic roots, the fusion of old and new was only partly successful. Sometimes it worked beautifully: the rhythmic line sharing and speaking in unison by the chorus (Ellie Nunn and Temi Wilkey) was a particularly compelling and welcome nod to the Athenian influence, which also preserved the energy of an updated version.

However, at other times this clash in the script did much to diminish the valiant effort evident on the stage. The chorus had the unenviable task of trying to keep vocal momentum and variety up in long passages originally intended for 15 voices. They are both talented and expressive performers, but even they couldn’t always measure up to such a mammoth task. Similarly, the more Sophocles-heavy scenes struggled for audience attention amid the more committed modernisation of others. The result was some serious pacing issues, where important speeches felt lulling and anticlimactic.

If you can forgive these slower moments, however, the talented cast will do their best to placate you. Alex Gomar, as Creon, gave an especially noteworthy performance. His stoic self control, complete with clenched jaw and slicked hair, dissolved convincingly into both anger and despair. His final scene was utterly breathtaking, a moment of mastery which closed the production on a high. Luka Krsljanin, as Haemon, gave a short but explosive performance, and George Potts (as the guard and then as Tiresias) deserves high praise for his comic timing and vocal performance respectively. Indeed, Potts seemed the only actor entirely unfazed by the demands of the dialogue, remaining natural throughout. By contrast, actors with larger parts sounded stilted at times, and many (including Giulia Galastro as Antigone) fumbled or hesitated over several lines.

Directorial decisions were mostly well justified, which added to the sense of talent struggling against script. By reducing the chorus to two people, Keith allows for an effective dialectic between a voice which fully supports Creon and one with reservations about the limits of his law. However, occasionally Keith let his atmosphere slip away. In particular, it seems odd that no one bar Antigone treats the order to leave Polynices unburied as out of the ordinary. Instead, the chorus receive the edict with a blank-faced passivity, which sits at odds with Antigone’s indignation and firm belief that she is in the right.

Watching this production of Antigone felt rather like riding the underground: there were long periods of darkness only occasionally interspersed with flashes of light. However, if you can stay attentive through the more plodding scenes, a talented cast, a clever visual display, and a cathartic ending ensure that these pockets of light are more than worth the wait.

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Fiona Kao

at 07:56 on 26th Oct 2011

0agrees

2disagrees

Antigone, a play by Sophocles, describes the aftermath of Oedipus’ crimes: Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, born of an incestuous relationship with his mother, killed off each other in a battle for the throne; Oedipus’ daughters, Antigone and Eurydice are the lone survivors of Oedipus’ line. Creon, the new king of Thebes, has decreed that Polyneices would be left unburied while Eteocles would be given the full burial rites, and Antigone is forced to choose between divine law and Creon’s orders.

The conflict between Antigone (played by Giulia Galastro) and Creon (played by Alex Gomar) still bears much weight today: in May 2011, bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs and buried at sea to avoid the formation of a cult centred on his shrine and relics; in October 2011, Gaddafi’s corpse was showcased for five days as fighters from Misrata and politicians in Benghazi wrangled over what to do with their greatest trophy - it was finally buried secretly in the middle of the desert. Just as Islamic custom dictates that a body should be buried as soon as possible after death, the ancient Greeks also believed that the lack of proper burial rites was the greatest insult to human dignity. When a tyrant is killed, should the people rejoice in Times Square? Is Sheikh Khaled (“Maybe they will hang me,” he says) the Antigone of our age?

When Creon first appears on stage, the chorus ponders what this new king would bring to Thebes. As soon as he orders that Polyneices should be left unburied, a messenger (the second best played character after Antigone) breaks the unpleasant news to him. The messenger’s question, “Is this what you want?” marks the beginning of Creon’s portrayal as a stubborn and inhumane tyrant, the messenger’s fear later echoed by Ismene’s similar question to Creon, “What do you want?”. Creon is determined to rule in his own right and disdains his son Haemon for yielding to a mere woman and asserts his authority over the Thebans. The version by Richard Keith and Simon Haines differs from the original by bringing Creon’s stubbornness and suspicion even more to the forefront. In the original version, Tiresias the blind old sage is led in by a boy and Creon accuses him of receiving bribes while in the new version, Tiresias is led in by Ismene and Creon accuses the sage of succumbing to the beauty of Ismene.

Antigone (played by Giulia Galastro) is openly defiant and fearless, her palms facing forward in the pose of come-what-may. The scene in which the messenger (played by George Potts) delivers the news that Polyneices’ corpse has just been buried is brilliantly rewritten and executed with precise ease. The messenger’s working class accent and inner turmoil consciously or subconsciously voiced before the king contrast sharply with Creon’s twisted face, impatient with all the messenger’s inner musings, and the king threatens to hang the messenger should he fail to deliver the culprit. However, Tiresias (also played by George Potts) is unconvincing as an old man and delivers his prophecy in a rigid stance. Creon’s lifting of his decree is too sudden with little emotions attached and his final outburst as he mourns over the corpses of his son and wife conveys not overwhelming grief and guilt but melodramatic artificiality. Yet the final scene is beautiful with its red ribbons streaming from the three corpses, and Creon’s red tie becomes another emblematic stream of blood.

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Comments

Kieran Corcoran; 26th Oct 2011; 22:39:27

on the off-chance that anybody reads these, it's worth pointing out that the messenger scene was the scene that had the least rewriting, which I think says a lot insofar as it was the only one that really worked. Also, Fiona, it's great that you're keeping up with current affairs, but glib and tenuous references in your review probably aren't the best way to showcase that fact.

Lise McNally; 27th Oct 2011; 18:08:11

Kieran your criticism isn't exactly constructive, and is therefore a bit unkind. While I’m sure a weighty knowledge of Sophocles came in very handy for your own review, you can hardly expect Fiona to be similarly well versed on every single play she sees.

Whether she knows if the messenger scene was a rewrite or not doesn’t affect her ability to comment on it within the bounds of the performance. And it was a standout scene, one you noted yourself.

Kieran Corcoran; 28th Oct 2011; 00:17:49

I don't think a really good knowledge of source text is that important - in fact it can prove a prudish hindrance, which is part of the reason that mine was a co-review with someone who didn't know the play.

But to call something "brilliantly rewritten" when you have no way of knowing whether that's the case is very bad form, just as it would be for me to call a piece of music well-composed with no knowledge to back it up. Here it's especially off as it implies that Haines/Keith deserve the credit when it's Sophocles all over.

Lise McNally; 29th Oct 2011; 23:15:14

Kieran, the poster said “rewritten”. She saw the play without any other scripts in front of her to compare. I’m not convinced that scene stood out so much for the script as for the superior acting. There were many other, albeit short, scenes where it was equally natural.

How many people truly know what it means to be “Sophocles all over”? Most us of don’t speak Greek, and are therefore vulnerable to the many translations which differ wildly from each other. Thank you for sharing your very privileged access into the “real” essence of the play, but please don’t tear down a new-reviewer who is without your very niche skill.

Kieran Corcoran; 30th Oct 2011; 16:41:06

a) No it didn't.

b) Your remaining points are true but irrelevant; the crux of my comment is "stick to what you know" - a dictum that doesn't change based on how common or not the knowledge might be.

In any case, this is getting cattish and self-evidently irrelevant now so I'm going to stop.

This exchange brought to you by my concern for informed and appropriate criticism™

Fiona Kao; 30th Oct 2011; 18:35:26

I would like to point out that I have read an English translation of the play a couple years back and reread parts of the play before I wrote the review. The original messenger scene is not intended to be humorous. The messenger comes before the king with a heavy heart to deliver the news. The new messenger scene is hilarious and deviates from the original script the most, thus my praise that it has been "brilliantly rewritten." I disagree with Kieran that that is the scene which had the least rewriting. I do think that a reviewer needs to have some acquaintance with the original script to see whether a new interpretation works or not.

the movement; 3rd Nov 2011; 17:38:33

Kieran, this isn't the tab, in case you've forgotten. Stop trolling these nice girls.

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