ANTIGONE (NOT QUITE/QUIET) REVIEW. Directed by Mark Fleishman. Choreographers: Ina Wichterich and Jennie Reznek, with Jennie Reznek, Faniswa Yisa and large ensemble headed by Carlo Daniels. At the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, until 28 September 28 2019.
BEVERLEY BROMMERT reviews
More of an intellectual workout than a piece of theatre, Mark Fleishman’s provocative reimagining of Sophocles’ much-staged tragedy is memorable for its energy, insight and courage.
The parenthesis appended to the title (not quite/quiet) is justified on both counts: this production is neither quiet nor noticeably faithful to the original. All it has in common with Antigone, apart from the names of the personae, is the analogy between ancient Thebes and contemporary South Africa.
As Fleishman remarks, both are societies in which deeply divided people are struggling to achieve democracy, settle conflict over major issues, and deal with a harrowing past as well as their interpersonal antipathy.
Here the narrative of Sophocles’ play is turned into a trilogy with the eponymous heroine at its centre, flanked by two other characters from the tragedy; her elder sister Ismene and the blind seer Tiresias. Each offers a different perspective on the issues arising from the tragedy, and this ternary structure is a sly gesture of respect towards the classical preference for three-part form.
Tour de force
Staging is austere, with the usual intimacy of this venue’s theatre-in-the-round sacrificed to a more formal accommodation of the audience – which conduces to the detachment required for intellectual (as opposed to emotional) engagement with the play’s themes.
A trio of screens on the backdrop is used to artful effect in the first and last sections of this Antigone. As Ismene – dishevelled, despairing and in quest of a peace that eludes her – dances around the stage, successive images of an arid, unforgiving landscape projected behind her evoke ancient Greece as well as the South African countryside at its bleakest.
In the finale, the screens become the vehicle for Tiresias’ speech and recital of SEK Mqhayi’s poem, Mbambushe – Lwaganda’s favourite dog, replacing the physical presence of the speaker with a virtual image.
Between the two comes the turbulent Antigone herself, and this is a tour de force on the part of the director.
Instead of a single female personifying the heroine, an ensemble of 13 (a significant choice of number) combine forces to portray her. Their composite character is deliberately mixed to transcend gender, age and race, partly suggesting the multiplicity of facets in a complex persona, partly pointing the solution to co-existence between radically different members of society coerced together with or without their consent.
Reznek is outstanding as Ismene
Among the array of impressive performances, Jennie Reznek is outstanding as Ismene, capturing the woman’s defensiveness and anguish at the sterile survival bought by her compliance with injustice, as opposed to the resistance offered by her dead sibling.
Her execution of Wichterich’s imaginative choreography is brilliant in its calculated imperfection.
The 13-strong ensemble muster collective grace as they follow rituals and unite in strong choral unison, and the only disappointment is that Faniswa Yisa, a performer of exceptional prowess, only appears in grotesque guise on the screen, which diminishes the impact of her participation.
This is muscular theatre which challenges and stimulates its audience, though not for the fainthearted.
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What: Antigone (not quite/quiet) review
Where, when: 18 to 28 September 2019
Photographs: Mark Wessels