HeartBeast Theatre have stepped outside of familiar territory with the staging of Antigone, not by choice of production (which is always reliably edgy) but rather by taking things into the underground. Their latest offering of Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of Sophocles great tragedy is showing in the wonderful, historic venue of the Spring Hill Reservoir (2-17 June) and it is well worth a chilling evening out on the town.
As we descend into the tomb-like cave (very fitting for the story of a woman doomed to be buried alive), we are met by an ‘Ab-fab’ version of Eurydice (Eleonora Ginardi) who is our host and chorus for the evening. The audience collects a drink and decides on seating while freely wandering amongst the characters who are stationed in the various wings of the reservoir (there is no back-stage here). The atmosphere is one of a subverted temple or ancient museum with rooms devoted to worship. We were team Antigone from the outset so took a seat in her corner and gazed on her light-puddled image as she mused in the distance before her ominous curtain-call.
A noticeable flaw of proceedings was evident right off the mark with the Chorus being inaudible due to the use of a microphone for Eurydice’s narrative. I’m not sure what the thinking was behind this and whether Keegan O’Neill (in charge of sound) was comfortable with it or indeed if it sounded different when the Reservoir was empty, but with-in the wonderful natural acoustics of the bunker filled with bodies, Eurydice and all her lines were lost to the muffle of amplification. The other actors, using raw voice only were easily comprehended. Hopefully, this is revisited for the remaining shows.
A delightful exchange between Antigone (Bek Schmidt) and her Nurse (Linda Shapcott) introduces the story as Antigone is sprung sneaking back into her room in the early morning. Nurse thinks she has been out chasing love. Ismene (Jane Schon), Antigone’s sister, arrives as Nurse leaves and knowing of Antigone’s plan to bury their brother who was cast out by Creon as an unworthy terrorist, Ismene tries to talk Antigone out of the dangerous deed, unaware that the task is already accomplished. Bek Schmidt as Antigone is superb. Schmidt has a lovely darkness and focus that is believable inside the mind of the defiant and honourable heroine. Yet in the scene where Antigone has been discovered re-burying her brother and is dragged to the stage-bound by thick ropes at her wrists, by the guards who are both terrifying and ridiculous in their hyena-like clothing. As she is tugged and tormented by the guards, Schmidt’s frame takes on a delicate dance of defiant yet utter fragility.
Creon, the King and Antigone’s uncle, is a surprising departure from the original image under the performance of Patrick Farrelly; A business suited, Irish accented, large statured presence that easily brings the character into our modern-day culture. The bullish Creon somehow elicits a tiny bit of sympathy in this guise- is it his softness, or his ‘man in the grey suit’ legacy, or the way in which he so gently goes about business with the blood of love on his shirt. It’s indescribable but quietly unique.
Anouilh’s version of Antigone subtlety transforms an ancient script into a powerfully relevant modern classic. Jean Anouilh lived in German-occupied France in the 1940’s and David Paterson (Director) quite rightly relates those themes to the ideological wars being played out on today’s world stage (a revolution in many regards). An unexpected production value gifted by the reservoir was revealed as the cold crept in amongst us during the crescendo of the performance. Suddenly we found ourselves with a slight shiver in those dank surrounds as if the tragedy unfolding around us had seeped into our bones.
Antigone is playing in the Spring Hill Reservoir until June 17. Bookings can be made online at HeartBeast’s website. The Theatre Company and venue are both well worth the effort.