Thursday, August 27, 2015

Antigone, Malthouse Theatre 2015, Review

                                             Photo by Pia Johnson... says it all, really.

I feel even less qualified than usual to review this production, not having much of a clue about Sophocles or Greek tragedies generally. And I felt so ambivalent about this one that I'm tempted not to write anything at all. It's probably the most disappointing play I've seen at The Malthouse. I have usually left the Malthouse feeling excited, not feeling meh.

But this is where I may be at fault. Perhaps if you are intimately familiar with Sophocles' play you will see more merit in this production than I did. Perhaps you indulged in a knowing nod to what looked to me like indulgent, highbrow theatrical knowing winks. I honestly didn't know why some things were done the way they were done. So I guess if this is a review, it's one for people, like me, people who like theatre but aren't very educated.

The general theme of the story is the question of which is more important, or noble: dedication to the greater good of one's country, or personal and human honour? Love or duty? This seemingly simple question is complicated by Antigione's plight of wanting to bury her slain traitor (to the state) brother. By way of punishment, his body is being left to rot in the open, deprived of being given the dignity of a proper burial. She buries him, his body is dug up and she is punished for having the temerity of going against the wishes of The State.

In this adaptation there appears to have been a smooshing of several characters, which became as confusing as some of the theatrical devices. There appeared to be an Aunt who was delivering the decrees of the king, or something; the blinded Antigione appearing to deliver the prophecies of a blind seer... then there was quite a bit of semi-nudity (that later leaves you asking why?), some strange physical moments in silence that seemed a bit silly and a little too long but which appeared to be symbolic of struggle or something. The rising water on the stage may or may not have had something to do with reflection... cleansing... changing tides... I have no idea but maybe it's crystal clear if you're more in-tune with this kind of thing than I am. Maybe it was just doing a trick because you can do a trick. I don't know.

In bringing this ancient story into our modern theatre, much comparison can be made between the theme of the play and, say, the current migrant crisis in Europe. On the one hand, yes, they are humans deserving of all the dignity we would treat our loved ones with.

On the other, if you simply open the floodgates and let millions into your homeland with its already struggling economy and infrastructure, at some point your economy and your infrastructure and social structure will fall. No question. I think Sophocles was posing a big question: should we devote ourselves to our family and friends, or do we have a greater duty to the greater community?

Big questions, unfortunately for me, clouded in this production by the kind of pretentiousness that would put someone like me off. I was occasionally engaged but more often baffled.

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