June, 2013 | The Benaki Museum, Athens
Sophocles’ Antigone at the Benaki Museum, directed by Natassa Triantafylli and part of the Athens festival was performed in a very promising space – the museum’s central courtyard. Seating was provided by the local tennis club (presumably), but the other architectural elements were richly complex and allowed for a lot of intricate spatial relationships.
Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. I am told that the actors participating were well-known and even award-winning in Greece. Perhaps their physical ineptitude and awkwardness is usually masked by the audience’s concentration on the text, but unfortunately while I know the text extremely well, my not being Greek made me concentrate on other elements more. Perhaps they are film actors. I have seen amateur Shakespeare perpetrated in the UK with far less shuffling of feet and vague wandering around.
One of the few positive remarks that my Greek-speaking colleagues could muster was that the space was used well. The space was not used well. The space was excellent and had great potential to be used well, but that is a compliment to the architect and not the performers. It is clear that the director had left long sections in which the performers had little direction except to push one another around a bit and shout. Long sections involved Creon interacting with Haemon and Antigone by ‘fighting’ with them and moving around the courtyard with no planning or thought for how it might appear to the audience. At one point he took Haemon over to lean on the left hand wall, almost out of sight of much of the audience and using one of the least interesting pieces of architecture around to have some kind of naturalistic cigarette break, minus cigarettes. There are so many examples of complete ignorance of how to use a theatrical space that it is hard to know which to mention. There was a fantastic bit of architecture at the back of the stage – a ramp behind a glass wall, extending up from the ground to the top floor. This was used… many times. Slow walks, slow walks backwards, waiting for cues to come on, passing one another meaningfully while walking, backwards or forwards.
The music, we are told, was composed by Monika, as though that is sufficient information. I assumed it must be someone I was introduced to previously given the lack of surname, but apparently not – she is well known just as ‘Monika’. She was also present at the performance. The music was a horrible cheese cliché, made even worse by its repeated use with the slow backward walk motif. When Antigone goes to her tomb, she walks slowly backwards, waving. The music swells dramatically. People around me stifle their laughter, while the old women in the front row look round in annoyance. As if this wasn’t hilarious enough, the backwards walk thing is repeated for the whole length of the ramp up to the fourth floor. With the same awful music.
The actors wear head mics, the powerful and bass-rich speakers are all at the back of the stage area, some 6 meters deep. There is a delay between the actors speaking and the audience hearing the sound from the speakers. I don’t need to say much more, but I’m sure anyone reading this will be amazed at the gap between the budget for technology, and the inability of the people working in the theatre industry in Greece to understand what it does. Actually, it’s not too much of a problem when the untrained actors speak because their real voices are entirely inaudible without amplification. Only when Creon begins to shout do we notice how truly absurd the whole arrangement is.
The lighting was expensive, complex, and entirely wasted on the things it was illuminating. It’s a shame that such an enormous budget had clearly been spent on hiring at least forty moving lights, as well as installing fluorescent tubes in various places. What could have been a beautiful and intricate lighting design was made cheap and clichéd by the poor direction trying to make use of it.
Lena Papaligoura as Antigone is one of few performers able to resist shuffling while speaking, and for this she has been recently awarded the Melina Mercouri Award. There is nothing interesting to speak of in the performance language – mostly performers throw themselves around in the worst kind of embarrassed naturalism. The woman playing the chorus, Tiresias and any other roles they couldn’t afford to fill due to the drain of sound and lighting budgets, was the only one to escape this. She seemed to have come from a different school of acting, which favoured a dreamy, monotonous delivery, slow movement, and complete lack of expression. I was interested by this choice, until I was told that this is her ‘style’, and she does it in every performance.
Clearly the director had good intentions and tried to make the most of the interesting space. However, the result was a performance without any detail or taste, that ran over two hours (half an hour longer than advertised) in uncomfortable tennis seats.
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