Monday, May 10, 2010

IN SEARCH OF GREEK DRAMA OR WHERE IN THE WORLD IS HAMMERSMITH

Lisa Stuart as Antigone and Matthew Wade, Chris Gunter, Robert Finlay - Chorus.
Photo: Yannis Katsaris

Reviewed by James Karas

You want to see some Greek drama, right?

Your train does not stop in Greece and you have access to the three cities that mount the largest number of theatrical productions – let’s call it the Triple Crown of Theatre in English – that is Toronto, New York and London.

You start with No. 3, Toronto, a city with a large Greek community, a vibrant theatrical scene and … you come up empty-handed. There is no Greek drama to be had in Canada’s cultural capital.

You are not faint-hearted so you try New York, the Mecca of theatre in North America. Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-off Broadway and the Hudson River there has to be at least one production of an Ancient Greek play. Right? Wrong. Even the Classic Stage Company that usually produced Greek plays has gone AWOL or at least Russian.

That does it. You will simply have to go to Numero Uno, London, the theatrical capital of the world. What with West End, Off West End, Fringe and who knows what other venues there has to be enough productions of Greek drama to require the fingers on both hands. Surely those extra-judicially borrowed and temporarily stored in the British Museum Parthenon aka Elgin Marbles encourage production of Greek tragedy and comedy.

There are at least 100 plays that you can see in London. This is in addition to the 38 musicals. If you want to see everything in ten days, you will need to go to the theatre about 14 times a day. You give up that idea quickly and start scouring the lists for Greek drama.

You find only one production and that in Hammersmith. The population center bearing that name is on the subway line and you give a sigh of relief at the thought of getting there without any Odyssean adventures.

In fact you have struck gold. You have found the Theatre Lab Company’s production of Antigone at the Riverside Studios. The production is directed by Anastasia Revi, TLC’s Artistic Director.

Every production of Ancient Greek tragedy is largely a creation of the director’s imagination. We know very little about production practices in the fifth century and know nothing about the music, singing and dancing that were part of the production. Actors wore masks then but rarely put them on these days and we have to settle for a translation and a very different milieu from the Theatre of Dionysus of around 441 B.C.

Revi is faithful to the text and she uses Robert Fagles’ poetic translation. She has limited acting space but makes remarkable use of what is at hand.

Lisa Stuart is an intense, dramatic and reckless Antigone in contrast to the down to earth Ismene of Kathryn Carpenter.

Skinhead George Siena, dressed in black, makes a frightful Creon. He looks and acts the dictator, threatening, sometimes cajoling and always menacing.

The Chorus of Antigone is supposed to consists of Theban elders. Revi either could not find any elder actors or deliberately chose to have a Chorus consisting of three young men. They are athletic and do some dancing and chanting. They are amazingly effective and show what talent and imagination can do. The Chorus is the most difficult aspect of Greek tragedy to deal with and it frequently bombs.

Tobias Deacon made a wonderful and very humorous Sentry. One does not associate too many laughs with Greek tragedy but the poor, terrified Sentry who has to tell Creon that his orders have been disobeyed can be quite funny. Deacon was.

The ageless Tiressias was played by a very young John Buckingham, nude above the waist. I don’t think anyone has ever imagined the blind Tiresias as a man in his twenties.

One of the major strengths of the production was the music composed and performed by Anne Malone and Noah Young. They were on stage all the time, seated on the side. Much of the music consisted of simple but evocative percussion and some vocal composition.

The play takes place in front of the palace of Oedipus but Designer Maira Vazeou has opted for a derelict house with broken windows rather than a more imposing structure.

Revi has been the Artistic Director of TLC since 1998 and the company seems to have made the rounds of a number of European cities. They even touched ground in New York but they have yet to make it to Canada. Too bad.
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Antigone by Sophocles played until May 2, 2010 at the Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, Hammersmith, London. http://www.theatrelab.co.uk/.

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