Brighton Fringe 2011
The two talented young women performing this show are new theatre company, Theatre Rheo, who aim to use innovative physical theatre in contemporary adaptations of ancient Greek Theatre. In this adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, translated by Robert Fagles, Susanna Hook and Mimi Findlay have devised an hour long, intimate piece of theatre for two performers, where this challenging play is cleverly explored through movement, physicality, rhythm, recorded music, voice, choral speaking, character, dialogue and song; employing minimal staging, lighting, costume, and props. The program states, “This tragic myth explores the concept of feeling oppressed, locked in and being tied to something, whether that be to family, the rules of society, the laws governed by those in rule or by our own fate that has us all fastened in its lock.”
The audience were certainly ‘fastened in the lock’ of the presence and strength of the performances of these two actors. Here we have a deeply intense and, at times, excitingly innovative telling of the tragic and story of Antigone and her sister Ismene. Antigone has often been produced on a grandiose scale by big companies: with large cast, huge Greek chorus, dramatic masks, and elaborate set & costumes – in keeping with the traditional Ancient Greek amphitheatre performances.
Upstairs at The Temple pub in Western Road however is a very small and indeed intimate space; and this production has only two performers (in very simple costume), one teeny-tiny slightly raised stage, and the use of just one prop – a glass bottle of talcum powder… This show is simple, unpretentious, intimate and intense. And what an effect this simplicity, this intimacy, this intensity has on the audience during this performance. We are so close to the actors. And they are so close to us.
They often look straight at us, and at the very end of the play, with the house lights up (nice touch), they address us directly with the final choral speech. The crucial connective role of Greek Chorus between dramatic action and audience works very successfully in this production.
This company need to remember that they are indeed not producing a humongous large-scale Greek tragedy play in a huge performance space. I would have seen and heard a little more light and dark in the performances. The physical element of the piece, though undoubtedly creative and interesting, at times did not work for me. This creative exploration, once found, needed to be taken to a whole new level. At times it did work, and especially when the abstract movement was employed to accompany choral speaking.
But at times it did not work, such as when Antigone is burying her brother and there is an uncomfortable mime-like scrabbling, digging, lifting and burying. Perhaps this scene called for a more stylised methodology. Also, I feel that the recorded music that worked so well when it was used could have been utilised more, and especially to accompany the more physical, stylised scenes. In one scene, Ismene begins to sing. Beautiful.
And then Antigone joins the song. More beautiful still. These performers both have stunning singing voices and the difficult harmonies were lovely. This use of song worked so well and I almost wish there had been more. And perhaps alongside some physical work. This entire production is extremely well executed, and these hard-working theatre makers and performers deserve due credit for what they have achieved here.