Friday, October 12, 2007

"Antigone" - October 2007

David Levin's version of Sophocles' tragedy is the first show to entice us along to Glasgow's Tron theatre. I find it hard to explain why it's taken us so long as it's a great venue, but its programming just doesn't seem to have caught our eye up until now. Indeed, tonight was the first time I've been there for over 15 years - the last time being for a stunning version of "A Clockwork Orange". It certainly won't be that long before we are back again, although I'm not sure how much credit for that "Antigone" is entitled to claim.

The tale focuses on events in the aftermath of a war between two brothers who have died at each others hands in a dispute over the rule of Thebes. King Creon has come to power after the battle and declared that one brother be given what amounts to a full state funeral while the other whose side was vanquished, be left unburied outside the city. As the sister of the two dead brothers, Antigone refuses to obey the King's decree and proceeds to perform the funeral rights for her outcast brother. All this is explained clearly at the beginning of the production, and the focus of the play is on how Creon should respond to Antigone's disobedience, a matter further complicated by his own son Haemon being due to marry Antigone.

For the tragedy of the piece to resonate with the audience we need to empathise with both sides and feel the conflict - both external and internal of the characters. There needs to be an ambiguity where the audience in effect must pick a side. But the production fails to make Antigone's case with sufficient power to balance King Creon's stance.

Antigone needs to be charismatic, strong and dignified, firm in her beliefs and accepting of her fate. But Hannah Donaldson's portrayal tends too much towards the petulant child, unwilling to consider the wider picture, with a screeching moment of rage coming over as a tantrum. The depth of her performance isn't helped by direction that leaves her delivering much of her dialogue side-on to the audience.

By contrast, Jimmy Yuill produces a towering performance as Creon, effectively carrying the production on his shoulders, and at one point impressively and literally in his arms. We see and feel his conflict. He knows he is doing an evil thing, yet believes it is also what is required for the good of the state. Given the analogies hinted at with modern day situations, I was left rather uncomfortable with how much of his justification I was willing to agree with. I'm sure I was meant to sympathise with Antigone and view Creon's downfall as deserved - but I just couldn't do it.

Sally Reid's Ismene lacked what could and should have been an interesting dynamic with Antigone - it just didn't come across as the kind of fight sisters have. David Ashwood's Haemon suffered from a hugely uneven tone in Levin's writing - from simpering son to rebel-with-a-cause and on to cringe-worthy breakdown.

The chorus of Billy Riddoch, Hamish Wilson and Andrew Dallmeyer worked well, both in concept and in execution. Martin Docherty's Guard was the star turn of the evening with a humour filled set piece.

This was an enjoyable evening, but without Yuill's performance the production could have seriously struggled and it's disappointing that the show as a whole couldn't match it, because that would really be worth seeing.

"Antigone" runs at the Tron until the 27th October

Photo by Richard Campbell, used with permission