Juliette Binoche Stars In A Low-Key Antigone

Victoria Rudland
By Victoria Rudland Last edited 110 months ago

Last Updated 08 March 2015

Juliette Binoche Stars In A Low-Key Antigone ★★★☆☆ 3

Ivo van Hove, Antigone, Juliette Binoche and Samuel Edward-Cook, photocredit Jan Versweyveld

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Following on from the success of last year’s production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic — now playing in the West End — innovative Belgian director Ivo van Hove turns his attention to Greek tragedy with a new version of Sophocles’s Antigone, penned by Canadian poet Anne Carson. After premiering in Luxembourg last month, the production has arrived at the Barbican prior to an international tour that takes in the Edinburgh Festival and the United States. And Juliette Binoche as the eponymous heroine is one hot ticket.

Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, risks her life by burying her brother Polyneikes after her uncle Kreon, King of Thebes, rules that, as a traitor, he is to be left in the desert to be eaten by wild animals. Binoche is raw and defiant as Antigone, while Patrick O’Kane’s Kreon is a quiet, constantly clenched tyrant, furious at being undermined. "I will not be bested by a woman!" he insists. It is his ego and his inflexibility — traits he shares with his niece — that prove his downfall. Judgemental and very present, the chorus represent both advisors to the king and the people of Thebes, and slink in and out of the action as leading characters, lending a different dimension to their criticism of Kreon's actions.

Van Hove’s is a stylised production, with abstract staging, modern dress and an anonymous setting. The design is curious but rather beautiful — video footage of blurred urban crowd scenes and austere desert landscapes flicker on the back wall, while a huge round cut-out that dominates the space is at times a vast orange sun, at others, a cool crescent moon. Moments of humour — chiefly from Obi Abili as the guard of Polyneikes's body — are welcome but almost seem to clash in what is otherwise a fraught, dark play.

At an hour and 40 minutes straight through, it should feel faster than it does. Daniel Freitag’s unsettling soundscape of quivering strings sets a suspenseful, urgent tone that isn’t quite matched by this slow-moving, low-key production, and one comes away feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Antigone runs until 28 March at the Barbican, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS, then touring. Tickets are sold out, but call 020 7638 4141 or go to barbican.org.uk for returns. The production will be broadcast on BBC4 in the spring. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.