3 1/2 out of 5
Touching, powerful, dark: Jean Anouilh’s Antigone is quintessentially great theatre. So when staging this play in its original language, the University’s French Society certainly had a lot to live up to. Did they succeed? Almost.
It’s a play that explores the very nature of tragedy itself. The audience is told within the first moments of the play thataAntigone, daughter of Oedipus and the fiancée of the crown prince, will die at the hands of the king, her uncle, Créon. It’s a powerful set-up, and has real potential for pathos.
That emotion is captured perfectly by Fanny Restuccia, whose Antigone is every bit the sad and mournful little girl. Moritz Kleine’s Créon could at times be too aggressive, and failed to properly gain the audience’s sympathy, but overall he was accomplished and believable. The interaction between the two sang, and they quickly drew the audience into their world. The supporting cast was a mixed bucket. The nurse (Jodie Drummond) was perhaps the best, a perfect blend of the glassy-eyed old woman and the obsessive busybody. Camille Bigot, who played a sweet young boy fated to deliver the horrible news of Antigone’s death, should also be proud of her touching performance. But Laura Francis, who played Antigone’s sister Ismene, seemed to forget that this is a tragedy; her flirtatious performance was absurd.
Questionable too was the performance of the palace guards. It didn’t help that two of them were women, and dressed as women, which made ridiculous their long speeches about brothel houses and how to hide their money from their wives. There’s nothing wrong with cross casting if the role allows it, but it didn’t work here. The director’s decision to make them into a comic interlude worsened the problem. A little humour can work in tragedy, to break the tension. In Hamlet, the prince of Denmark is such a brilliant character precisely for his many monologues poking fun at everyone he can. But here, it got old fast. A description of a dead body unburied and slowly rotting should not be delivered flippantly, with a silly grin.
There were technical difficulties, too. At the start of the play, three characters entered far too early, then just sat there, making the audience feel uncomfortable as we waited for it to start. Whenever the actors messed up a line, the subtitles (mercifully) provided for non-French speakers made the audience all too aware of that fact. The wings never fell silent.
But this was still an impressive play. The costumes were simple but effective and the actors made good use of the Venue 1 stage’s depth. Both stage and costumes alluded to the classical origins of this story without being crass about it. The producer’s decision to keep props to a minimum prevented distraction from the drama. And the pathos generated was vast. If some actors could be accused of forgetting this is a tragedy, the death toll by the end should have been enough to remind them.
Perhaps this was not a tour de force, but it was not terrible theatre either.