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Fringe Festival Review: Antigone's Death

Fringe Festival Review: Antigone's Death

Review by Lyndon Hood

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Antigone's Death
El Toro Productions
Imerst (13 Dixon St)
21 - 23 Feb, 8pm (55 minutes)

One might want to speculate about what it is in the Zeitgeist that led two groups in this year's Fringe to independently produce the classic rebellion story of Antigone (the Almost A Bird Collective's production is reviewed here, with plot summary). In fact, both are (very different) versions of Jean Anouilh's play, which draws the battle between idealism and pragmatism into sharp focus, and plays on the idea of tragic inevitability so heavily that I for one eventually felt the urge to rebel against even that.

Antigone's Death, an energetic free reconstruction of the play, offers us some clues. It opens with a speech about the widespread assumption that the post-80s economic system is a fact of nature. The first appearance of Creon, killer of idealists, is associated with a highly unsympathetic presentation of United States military policy. The production is only rarely that blatant or that political - nonetheless, as with most ages, people looking at Antigone's story now can clearly find a lot to relate to.

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The play is performed at one end of the dance floor at Imerst. Though the dark space is not all that inviting for the audience to enter, the action we see there is intriguing, vibrant and full of theatrical invention.

The performance was full of variety, ranging freely and watchably from direct speech to the audience to abstract movement, music to slideshows. It also made extensive use of Anouilh's text, the whole performed with an engrossing emotional commitment and visceral intensity. In an approach that works well with Anouilh's play, psychological realism has taken a back seat to the interplay of emotions, to powerful, archetypal characters and theatrical effect.

Some of the archetypes have modern twists: Lana Sklenars plays a tricksterish mixture of the chorus, the nurse and Antigone's sister Ismene as a giddy schoolgirl - in continuous fits of laughter at the irony of everything, the more tragic the funnier. In an interesting deviation from Anoiulh's plot, she accompanies Antigone as she attempts to bury their brother and - as I understood it - distracts the guards (and the audience) by floating coquettishly about the place while Antigone did the digging.

Haemon (Sam Gordon), whose girlfriend is condemned to death by his father is the eternal Goth/Grunge/Emo kid - slightly hoarse from the shouting but played with such sincerity that there is no question of cliché. Especially when, sobbing through his laughter, honest in his irony, he compares the man he sees his father as to the benevolent giant he experienced his childhood.

Peri Chapelle's Antigone is all determination, and increasing alarm as that determination traps her. Her punishment - entombment - for pursuit of her ideals and Haemon' suicide over her body are perhaps the ultimate teenage death fantasy. The artistic style of the poster, programme and projected images in the play also bring this to mind, as does the repeated use of Nirvana's 'Heart Shaped Box', both recorded and love (the song's title alone has plenty of parallels with the story). Antigone is young, but her fate resonates and poses questions for people who might imagine they are more mature.

Contrasting with these is Creon (Richard the Whale, says the programme). Dogmatic and direct, standing for no opposition, and interestingly very kiwi. His fur of office is draped over a drizabone coat, bone carving round his neck and even his voice is more New Zild than the rest of the cast. That naturalness creates another memorable moment as a sliding between the actor and the character suggest that Creon's treatment of Haemon - and the assumption that he will take his medicine learn what's good for him - is, compared to normal parenting, different in the details rather than the attitude.

Having recently seen what was basically a full version of their source material, I sometimes had to remind myself to deal with the interpretation on its own terms. Much of the Anouilh's text has gone out the window (this performance was about half the length of the Almost A Bird production and contained a lot of original material). I personally missed the self-knowing Creon, as trapped by his pragmatism as Antigone is by her ideals. The resulting story was, thematically, perhaps more like Sophocles' original version as it appears to a modern audience, with the tyranny of authority to the fore.

Familiarity with the story might have helped me in interpreting some of the more abstract sequences but it didn't appear to be necessary for enjoyment of the production. In fact, it sometimes hampered me slightly - as when the actors used what was, for me, an odd pronunciation of 'Antigone' (with a neutral-vowel e) that took some getting used to.

This is by way of quibbling, and doesn't really detract from an intriguing production. Antigone's Death works powerfully on the visceral level where I believe tragedy belongs. It is also theatrically entertaining and personally provocative.


Antigone’s Death press release
Antigone's Death website
Fringe website
Scoop Full Coverage - Fringe 07

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