KIERAN CORCORAN and CATHERINE AIREY find tragedy in the Greek classic, sadly not the moving kind of tragedy they were hoping for, more the tragedy of bad theatre.
ADC Theatre, 25th-29th October, 7.45pm, £6-10
Directed by Richard Keith
Another year, another landmark of world literature dropped into our hungry throats by Simon Haines & Richard Keith, like mother Seagulls rearing their young.
Benevolent as this image seems, they’re having us on. The sly status of the play as ‘adaptation’ over translation is exploited fully; but the pair’s textual tinkering only muddies and confuses matters.
The play’s new prologue, rendered in creakily self-conscious pentameter, casts a metatheatrical haze on everything to follow. It was a stand-out example of the script’s continual attempt to be both a translation of, and a commentary on, the original – inventing themes and explanations which we could all do without.
A tragic chorus is a tough thing to shunt over the cultural barriers between good old Athens and rotten old now, and here Haines/Keith did themselves no favours. Hovering constantly on stage, Ellie Nunn and Temi Wilkey did nothing but distract us. Choral odes, again crammed with uncomfortably florid thesaurus-poetry, multiplied the awkwardness as weedy attempts at physical theatre and unnecessary costume changes ended up as no more than a shy and silly little dance.
This we could forgive, in exchange for a powerful Creon and Antigone to provide the clash of mighty wills and unbreakable principles that an Antigone has to have at its core. The reality was sadly lacklustre.
We were uncharacteristically divided on Giulia Galastro’s Antigone. To Catherine she’s too preachy and self-righteous, to me too withdrawn; nowhere near loud and proud enough of her glorious transgressions of state control. Both are tenable positions, but whichever way she should have gone, the middle-ground of quiet resolution that we ended up with was flatly unconvincing, making it impossible for us to sympathise with her (not so) tragic end.
Her adversary in Creon fared little better. It is a sad fact that Alex Gomar has nothing like the physicality or the style of delivery to pull off a head of state, even a bad one like Creon.
In the context of a student performance, necessarily peopled with teens and twenty-somethings, this might seem like unfair criticism. But it comes to an awful head in Gomar’s pivotal confrontation with Luka Krsljanin’s Haemon, in whom this virile, active statesmanship is abundantly present.
He was such a dominant figure, so clearly in charge both physically and in his rhetoric, as to make a nonsense of the scene’s father-son dynamic. Within seconds we both came to the awful realisation that they were playing each other’s parts perfectly, Krsljanin’s evident talent wasted by being set in the complete wrong direction.
Only one performance in Antigone was unfettered by circumstance and unhampered by adaptation. Goerge Potts brought the house down with his perfectly comic appearance as the unlucky and reluctant messenger. The studied low comedy of his long speeches and snappy interjections provoked a tremendous reaction from his (they really were his) audience – the biggest response of the show.
But there’s an obvious problem when the show-stealing moment of your tragedy is the funny bit in the middle. It simply highlights how far the rest of the tragedy failed, on a quite fundamental level, to stir anything much in us at all.
The denouement did nothing to salvage this. Laughter seemed the unfortunate first response of the audience in the closing scene. Red light, some shouting, and an over-abundance of stage corpses are just some of the schoolboy dramaturgy assembled by heavy, heavy directorial hands. They failed to snatch the, frankly unearned, tragic resolution towards which the whole play ought to have been hurtling. Worst of all was the trailing of red ribbons from the dead, acceptable perhaps in the case of Haemon and his mother, but we still remain perplexed as to why Antigone was adorned in the same way.
When script, vision and staging all conspire so concertedly against it, not even the strongest play can survive. Perhaps that’s tragic in its own way – but not the kind of tragic that deserves a £6-10 ticket and two hours of the audience’s time.