Thursday 24 May 2012

Antigone at the National Theatre, or It's All in the Delivery

Note: This is a review of the second Preview performance. Press Night is on Wednesday 30th May.

The life lessons I gleaned from this show can be summed up in three statements:

1) It is an almost infallible rule (the only exception I can immediately think of being the original London Into the Woods) that putting a clock which changes time during the show on stage is a serious mistake.

2) “There is no hatred more terrible than that of two people who used to love each other.” As someone who has endured an unpleasant divorce I know this to be all to sadly true.

3) It's all in the delivery.

Life Lesson No.3 became apparent because almost nobody manages to deliver the text effectively in this show. There is such a widespread problem of odd pauses and emphases as to make me wonder if some kind of foolish directorial instruction has been given, but whether actors or director are responsible swift action is required. For in much of this play everything depends on one believing what one is being told. The chorus has to make you see the things they describe. They have to make you believe in their fears. There are occasional flashes of this but nowhere near enough. Another factor may well have been the decision to split the chorus's lines around an ensemble of ten. None of them are given much individuality by costuming or direction, or enough lines to really establish their presence. They fade in, speak a few lines (too often to little effect) and fade out again.

The principals are, I'm afraid, similarly unimpressive. Luke Newberry's Haemon probably comes the closest to sustaining a convincing performance through an entire scene. I thought at the beginning of his scene that Jamie Ballard's Teiresias was going to stop the rot but by the conclusion he was ending his sentences with unconvincing wails. The biggest problem is Christopher Eccleston's performance as Creon. He has to be frightening. He must exude a sense of power. You have to believe in his strength which becomes tyranny or his collapse (and indeed the whole plot) goes for nothing. I'm sorry to have to report that at the moment Eccleston's performance simply is not working. It's too much on one level, I didn't find him at all threatening, and he fails to make the words live.

Finally there's the set. It's basically a modern largely open plan office with faxes, post-trolleys, photocopiers. This creates an awful lot of busyness which does nothing to support or give added point to the text. In the centre is a closed in office for Creon with the aforementioned clock. At points Creon and members of the chours disappear in there. This closes them off still further from the audience, does bizarre things to the voices, and once again adds nothing to the drama.

Overall an uninvolving evening. It is obviously too late for Polly Findlay and her team to discover a more convincing scenic vision for the piece, but there may still be time to sort out the delivery of the text. Unless that undergoes substantial improvement by press night this show cannot be recommended.

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