ANTIGONE Barbican, WC2

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ANCIENT GRIEF, A TERRIBLE BEAUTY There are some trademarks here: shaven heads, bare feet, bleak staging, immense and timeless dooms and subtle, insistent soundscape. Ivo van Hove, the Belgian director from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, stunned us lately with Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, and there is a family resemblance to that “perverse purity” in this Sophoclean tragedy , with Juliette Binoche at its heart striding stark with grief . It is that quality which van Hove’s production most expresses: the grief of Oedipus’ orphaned daughter, desperate for her dead warring brothers and defiantly burying Polyneikes, the reflected sorrow of her sister, Ismene, at her headlong rush towards death; the grief too of King Kreon, blinded by stubborn realpolitic – “the sacrilege that I called public policy” when his own son and wife sink beneath the same dust. The production is spare, slow-paced, mesmerizing, almost incantatory with Anne Carson’s text and Daniel Freitag’s echoing insistent score: Binoche moves with beautiful, unsettling sorrow: at one point her ritual tending and burying of the brother’s dead body is beyond moving. Yet it is a difficult tone to sustain for a hundred minutes, especially in the Barbican theatre, a space which somehow always manages to feel both cavernous and claustrophobic. Van Hove’s great View from the Bridge was born in the breathing, warm, organic, almost makeshift atmosphere of the Young Vic: the starkness there was a contrast, not so overpowering. And some may find this re-telling slow, underpowered, perhaps less engaging than Polly Findlay’s recent, more detailed production of Sophocles’ tragedy at the Olivier. For me, though, it struck home: the way the grief crackled through it, the unemphatic message of the courtiers being in modern business-dress, the casual vernacular chorus acting as advisers and as quietly horrorstruck onlookers, the gentle angry power of Binoche. And, not least, Patrick O’Kane’s strong Kreon and a wonderful Queen Eurydike from Kathryn Pogson. There is a moment when suddenly the dead Antigone strolls to the stage’s edge and delivers lines belonging to the messenger, her accent suddenly a little French for the first time: “Citizens…” she calls us, and the moment feels thrillingly direct. A message from the deep long past, a dead hand reaching out in warning and resignation. “Fortunate, unfortunate..no seer can see what’s ahead”. box office: barbican.org.uk to 28 March Then touring Europe; BBC filming it for BBC4 later in the year rating four
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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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