Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Antigone @ The Royal Exchange

I live with a lady who has the most expressive eyebrows you have ever seen. She expresses scepticism in the move of one glorious, nuisanced eyebrow with an ease and eloquence most of us could only dream of.

The Royal Exchanges' production of Antigone was great on so many levels, but there were several aspects of it which made me wish I had my house mate's skill with the eyebrow.

The Good: The acting, with was mostly incredibly good, captivating, stepping the fine line between delivering interminable speeches, which I guess cannot be avoided with Greek theatre, and expressiveness.

The set, simple, with a funeral bier complete with charred bones and a uneven floor with a massive crack in it reminiscent of Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth 2007.

The contemporary clothes made it feel a little like we were watching an episode of Lost, but also gave a kind of timeless, post-apocalyptic feel to the whole affair that I quite liked.

Despite initially balking at the prospect of watching a play for a hour and forty minutes without a break, I didn't actually feel as painfully long as I expected. All of a sudden everyone is dead and you know there can be only a few more speeches before you're allowed to escape to the pub.

The slightly silly: The modern dance. I'm first to confess I'll always prefer prose over poetry. I like a bit of narrative with my fish supper. I can understand its purpose, breaking up the production, giving us a breather from the endless speeches and the actors a chance to change, but I really just didn't get it. It seemed rather silly and tacked on.

The army chaps in full black block desert storm regalia. It took contemporaneity a little far, and made every reference to "crimes against the state" a little heavy. The shenanigans with the riot shield just seemed completely nonsensical.

Antigone's arms. Although Matti Houghton was mostly great, there was some weird going on with her arms. They seemed determined to do with odd, mannequin like, automaton flapping. Although this gives us a sense of the highly controlled nature of the character, I frankly found it distracting, jerky and utterly inexpressive.

Anyway, don't let this put you off. I reckon I have a pretty normal attention span and didn't find it wandering once, something which is pretty remarkable for ancient classical theatre. I really did enjoy it, despite wishing I had better skills with the sceptical eyebrow.

Antigone is at the Royal Exchange until the 8th of November.

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