Theatre review: Antigone at the Barbican

Antigone, Juliette Binoche, photocredit Jan Versweyveld

Antigone, Juliette Binoche, photocredit Jan Versweyveld - Credit: Archant

Moody and modern Greek tragedy lacks emotional core, says Marianka Swain

The triumph of director Ivo van Hove’s revolutionary A View from the Bridge raised expectations sky-high for its successor: Sophocles’ enduring tragedy, starring French luminary Juliette Binoche.

Yet this Antigone is frustratingly less than the sum of its illustrious parts.

Van Hove claimed inspiration from incendiary recent events like the downing of flight MH17, but his moody modern-dress production isn’t so much contemporary as a timeless void. It’s a beautifully precise shell crucially lacking the molten core that gives this cerebral play its soul.

Canadian poet Anne Carson’s translation, mixing lofty lyricism and resonant colloquialisms, strongly showcases the inexorable mutual destruction of two intransigent absolutists.

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Antigone (Binoche) is determined to bury her brother against the wishes of Kreon (Patrick O’Kane), who decrees that, as the antagonist of a bloody civil war, his body must be left to rot.

Binoche has graceful presence, but van Hove’s deliberately measured approach leaves her exposed.

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Unable to find organic grounding for her emotional crescendo, she grows shrill and synthetic.

The real articulation of the war between duty to the state and to family and divine law comes from O’Kane’s bullying technocrat, menacing in his deceptive moderation, and the superb Chorus, acting as both his political sounding board and fatally conflicted psyche.

In addition to choric duties, Kirsty Bushell provides a poised Ismene, Finbar Lynch an eloquent seer, and Samuel Edward-Cook a stirring Haimon.

Jan Versweyveld’s set juxtaposes mundane and ethereal, its bland office backed by video-projected dreamscapes. The latter distract from the live action, and, along with muddled amplification, suggest an intimate piece at odds with the cavernous Barbican stage.

Van Hove’s ponderous approach is oddly hypnotic, and underlines the importance of listening to others, but the austerity robs Antigone of its pathos.

Rating: 3/5

Until March 28.

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