It’s a very heavy silence. I don’t like a heavy silence says one of the Chorus towards the end of the play. If you agree with his attitude, this is probably not the production for you. Ivo Van Hove’s Antigone is deliberately slow and silent. While the refined aesthetic makes for a visually imaginative evening, the raw cathartic emotion associated with the play is somewhat sacrificed as a result.
The classic Greek tragedy tells the story of the fierce Antigone, who is determined to bury the body of her ‘traitor’ brother Polyneikes, even if it means defying the order of her uncle and King, Kreon. His utilitarian belief of valuing the state over the individual collides with Antigone’s unrelenting yearning to bury her brother. The play is just as concerned with political policies as it is with the helplessness of the human condition.
Patrick O’ Kane certainly integrated these contrasting aspects into his layered performance as Kreon. He began as a quiet, calculating, almost Voldemeort-esque leader, gradually unraveling into a raging, grief stricken lunatic. His wife, Eurydike, played by the hypnotic Kathryn Pogson, gave an equally moving performance as the tormented wife of a tyrant. Her silent madness before she killed herself offstage was a brilliant peak of the play.
Tiresias, played by Finbar Lynch with his stirring Irish lilt, describes how the singing birds, sensing the forthcoming disaster, ‘sound wrong, wild and weird’. The description seems apt to describe Binoche’s performance. Compared to Kristen Scott Thomas’ heart wrenching Electra at the Old Vic last December, Binoche falls short in depicting the magnitude of emotion required for the heroine of a Greek tragedy. Her Antigone is petulant rather than passionate, more childlike than courageous.
The acting performances compliment the translation, which is a beautiful blend of sterility and poeticism. Samuel Edward-Cook embodies this as the haunted Haimon, flitting with ease between rhythmical expressions and sharp naturalism. Obi Abili was able to tinge the language with modern humor and sarcasm without straying far from the unified style of the piece. The play’s production values, which are the highlight of the evening, also inventively complement the text’s duality. Jan Versweyweld’s set is divided into two. The forestage consists of a Bauhaus office; its crisp aesthetic balances the backdrop’s blurry projections of barren wastelands and crowded cityscapes. A circular disc becomes a blinding sun and a crescent moon, overseeing the chaos with a calm omnipresence. The Barbican continually produces artistic spectacles for their theatrical sets, but perhaps it is at the risk of loosing some of the nuance required for the rest of the production.
This production’s strength is its clever reimagining of Greek tragedy that seems to be a growing trend in the London theatre scene. The intricate translation embraces the ambivalence of Sophocles’ original, and will continue to puzzle audiences on its world tour. While it remained true to Aristotle’s claim that a tragedy should evoke pity and fear, it seemed to fall short of the wave of catharsis one is supposed to feel when leaving the theatre.