I think I may have been to opening night of Antigone on Wednesday (I am not altogether sure) – and that’s something I generally try to avoid, as I always feel that the cast and crew haven’t yet had time to perfect it.
However, I didn’t book the tickets…to be honest, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to see on Wednesday. A few months ago, my mate asked me “Would you like to see a play with Christopher Ecclestone in it.” He probably said more than that, but that is as much as I heard. I really like Christopher Ecclestone – and it was months away, so I just said “Yes please!”
I actually put it in my diary as “Christopher Ecclestone thing @ Almeida”. Yes. That’s how much notice I was taking.
So, it’s pretty fair to say that I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in the Olivier Theatre at the National.
Antigone (actually pronounce ann-tig-oh-knee) is actually a Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles. The title is the name of the heroine, she is a daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta (you remember them – she was actually his mum! Ewww!).
The play starts following the death of Oedipus, and his two sons have died in combat, one defending Thebes from the other. Creon (Jocasta’s brother) has become King, and his first ruling is that a proper burial should be given to Eteocles who was defending Thebes but that the body of his brother Polynices should be left out for the scavengers and not receive a proper burial.
Antigone goes against Creon’s orders and tries to give Polynices a proper burial, even though her sister Ismene refuses to help her from fear of reprimand.
THAT basically is what the play is about. Christopher Ecclestone plays Creon, the King who is trying to assert his power and doesn’t take criticism well – even from his son Haemon, who is actually betrothed to Antigone (confused by all this incestuous activity yet?)
The set was an office – a very old fashioned (70s?) office. There were three proper glass and wood pannelled offices (the middle being the King’s office, complete with portrait) whilst outside was a jumble of desks, wheelie chairs and other assorted equipment.
Personally, I didn’t really get the set, but my mate said he was cool with it – it was very much ‘the state’.
Unfortunately neither of is were particularly convinced by the acting though. I am not sure whether it was proving my distrust of opening nights to be right, but the acting felt like…well ‘acting’. It felt like the main players were saying “Look at me, I am an actor!” – I’m not sure how to describe it, but everything felt rather emotionless – as if they were all going through the motions, a bit like a rehearsal. An emotionless tragedy isn’t a good thing, right?
And it isn’t as if the content of the play is anything to rely on – I bet if you took out the amount of times people described how Polynices hadn’t had a proper burial, then the whole play would have been reduced to an hour, rather than the one and three quarters (no interval) that it was.
And you could probably have got it down to 50 minutes if you took out all the inter-scene bits of chorus ‘office bustle’.
I might actually have thought that it was good if it had been 50 minutes, although they probably would have had to show a cartoon beforehand to pad it out a bit like the days of Saturday morning matinees at the pictures.
OK…I am being unfair now it wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t good – whether that’s because the play is a bit skimpy on content, or because of the set, direction or acting, I cannot tell. But there was certainly no standing ovation. It was the shortest applause I have been part of at the theatre in the past couple of years…and I have been to see a LOT of plays!
It was an experience, it entertained me enough, Haemon, Ismene and especially the seer were pretty good and we got the seats as part of the National Theatre’s £12 deal, so it didn’t break the bank.
I expect it will get better with more performances.