After my review of Love of the Nightingale, one of Fourth Monkey's other plays in rep currently at Teatro Technis in Camden, I was delighted to be asked back to review Antigone which is in rep with Nightingale and also The Threepenny Opera.
My review for Nightingale is available to read on this site and I also blogged some thoughts about the evening on my own Actorvist blog which I'm sure you can all find if you so desire.
What delighted me about being asked back was that I thought "Good for them! Here's a theatre company asking back a critic who really did not enjoy his last experience of our work...so either this is much better or else they are genuinely interested in making what they do better and tighter and more, well, entertaining" All of the above reasons are good ones in my book. So I accepted the review, albeit with a little amount of trepidation about what I would find, and off I trundled to the nether reaches of Camden and the now increasingly familiar thrust stage of Teatro Technis.
The stage set, a reworking of the same devices used in Nightingale, has been opened up to provide more performance space for the actors and generally works well. And the cast, more often than not, make full use of the space given the limitations placed upon them by some weird, if not downright pointless, directorial choices imposed upon them by the director Natalie Katsou.
The play itself deals with the response of King Creon to the disobedience of Antigone and her sister about the ritual burial of her traitorous brother. A simple tale with clearly a strong plot and some great lines to be delivered. However here the young performers have to wrestle with not only delivering a wordy, but powerful script, but also with the feeling that they've been cast deliberately in an egalitarian fashion. Each supporting actor being given roughly the same number of lines regardless of talent. This is unfair to the cast, the play and the audience.
I understand that this is a training rep company and I understand that this is also their first season. Perhaps the think I don't understand is why the director has chosen to hobble performances by superimposing distracting physicality and choreography onto the characters. Seemingly this is done purely for stylistic effect. However all it serves to do is to distract. The cast, with a few notable exceptions, are not experienced enough to be able to juggle the demands of the words and the demands of the physicality Katsou requires of them.
Even of the notable exceptions there are moments when I found myself reduced to laughter at the pointlessness of what I was seeing. Again I do not hold the actors responsible for this. They are dealing as best they are able with the material and the direction that they have been given.
To illustrate general weirdness, the play starts in a normal way, with a spoken narrative. Perhaps this could start earlier and the introduction with the clarinet playing Antigone could be cut as it serves no narrative purpose however. And the play moves on with words being spoken by the characters and the chorus until Antigone, about to be holed up in a cave for all eternity, launches into an overly long Antogone's Lament. The choral singing is superb, even allowing for one persistently flat singer... and the solo singing could be truly exceptional. But, coming out of left field as the singing does it serves to do nothing other than make me wish the entire thing had been a musical. That was after asking why she was suddenly singing at all of course.
I will add here, as I wrote previously in the review of Nightingale, that what Fourth Monkey are trying to do is admirable. I want to encourage the young actors in their career and do not want to dampen their obvious enthusiasm but I think the directors they work with need to treat the cast with more respect. Trust that they are capable of the task you ask of them. Remind them that they are there to serve the words, serve the play itself.
Strip out all the unnecessary actions and overlaid tricks and distractions that the director imposes on them and you have here a great play with a hugely capable cast. Admirably led by Reuben Beau-Davies as Creon. He doesn't quite manage to convincingly embody the majesty and might that I would expect to see in that particular ancient king, and is perhaps a little too comfortable in playing him largely as angry, but he has undeniable stage presence and is obviously an actor to watch out for as he develops.
Perhaps I am being overly picky here I admit, but that's only because I can see so much potential in this cast and it's largely being thrown away here because it seems to me that the director was unclear of her vision for the piece and reluctant to trust the cast to do a good job. To all future directors at Fourth Monkey I implore you trust the actors. They are more capable than you fear.
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