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Belt Up's 'Antigone'
Published on Tuesday, 17 August 2010

3.5 stars

C soco (venue website)
4-30 Aug (not 25), 9:00pm (9:55pm)
Reviewed by Susannah Radford

Would you risk death to bury your brother?  This is the question that falls to Antigone to answer. Her recently-deceased sibling has been deemed a traitor, and her uncle refuses him burial rites - on order of death if he is disobeyed.

There is real intimacy to Belt Up productions; here the fourth wall is well and truly broken, as the actors welcome you into a space that’s as toasty warm as one imagines a balmy night in Greece would be.  It’s performed in the round, but you are so close to the action it’s almost interactive.  This intimacy is appealing; it heightens the immediacy and it’s exciting to be so close to the actors (despite sitting uncomfortably on a cushion). 

The declamatory nature of classic Greek plays has been replaced with naturalism, bringing a fresh, vibrant energy to Antigone.  The play is peppered with song and physicality: there is much life in this story of death.  The staging of the brothers' fight, which leads to such tragic consequences for the family, is a nice linear through-line, while there is a lovely circularity to the beginning and end.  Sometimes, though, the acting is more emotional than it needs to be, occasionally undermining the overall effect of the play.

The moments of stillness and intimacy work best: Creon at his bath stand practicing his speech, Ismene brushing her sister’s hair, the moment of truce between the four main characters as they dance towards the end of the play.  Of these, Creon's scene is perhaps the most satisfying.  Here we see the difference between the public and private face of a king.  He is a leader in conflict; he knows what he has to do and what the consequences will be, and this is of great torment to him.  While the others rail against the gods and Creon himself (for acting as the King rather than an uncle), Creon’s conflict is internalised, making him all the more human and more likeable. 

Much of the time, the portrayal of Antigone herself left me feeling very frustrated - though it's to the play's credit that it provoked such a strong reaction using such an ancient plot.  It reminds me of watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and wanting to shout out “make a decision Hamlet, you fool, act!”  Here I wanted to shout out “options, Antigone, there are options.”  Leaving a beloved brother to rot in the sun at the mercy of carrion and dogs is distressing, but I’m not sure I’d die for it; Antigone’s determination seems to border on suicide. But then, I’m not living during times of war, where burial rites would be the last thing you could do for the dead... and the pursuit of what you think is right can blind judgement, in ancient Greece just as in in our own day. 

For all that, while there is genuine emotion in the performances, the production itself lacks a certain gravitas.  But Belt Up productions are always exciting - and I'll continue to look forward to their work in the coming years of the Fringe.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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