Experimental, inventive and hugely daring,
Sophocles it is not... But this is a company that dares…
Events in Barcelona in 2017, and Clevillé’s own Catalan background shocked him into exploring the theme of civil disobedience and led him to Sophocles’ Antigone where a teenager challenges the state. Creon, the tyrant, who has ruled that the body of a traitor, Antigone’s brother, shall not be buried but left to the dogs is opposed by her knowing that this will lead to her death. Interestingly, Creon is not portrayed as a villain. His point of view is given rationally, explaining that he wants to do the right thing. This production is open enough and the stronger for it, leaving the audience to see parallels with modern issues and events.
The only explicit intervention is a feminist pro-Suffragette song to the tune of Mary Poppins' Sister Suffragette performed with gusto and humour. Other ‘interruptions’ are Solène’s charming interactions with the audience, comments such as ‘It’s Greek tragedy so it won’t end well, you know’ and reminiscences of seeing Jean Anouilh ’s version of Antigone when she was a child of seven. These add variety of tone and pace and make the piece humourous and accessible. Whether this adds or distracts from the searing force of the original Sophocles is debatable.
However, the piece rests on Solène’s physical performance. Those who saw her in Lost Dog’s Romeo and Juliet at the Edinburgh Fringe will know how talented she is. Her extraordinary contortions (influenced by Lost Dog’s Ben Duke and his performance methods) are based on tension and release leading to original and expressive movement. The most arresting scene is when Solène barks like a dog. Potentially risible, as the barking goes on and on and on it has the visceral effect of Greek women keening and the audience too is overwhelmed. It is also an intriguing and ambivalent symbol since it is dogs who are desecrating her brother’s corpse. The extraordinary vocal skills employed to achieve this is based on Nadine George’s technigue used by the voice coach, Jean Sangster. It is only a pity that Solène’s voice when delivering text could often not be heard but this is a glitch that will surely be put right over the run.
Luke Sutherland’s recorded sound track is also highly original and apt, the sounds amazingly created by using the body. Emma Jones' lighting is strong and economical, suggesting a minimal set, but the audience are too often blinded and Solène’s face left in shadow. However, the atmospheric effect helps suggest Antigone’s isolation.
Ultimately, Sophocles this is not. The piece lacks the force of Greek Tragedy, with downgraded text and distracting ‘interruptions’ and for this critic, Antigone’s dilemma, apart from the exceptional barking scene, fails to devastate. However, it is well worth going to see, despite style over substance. This is a company that dares, and if you don’t dare, you don’t achieve anything really original and strong. Their strengths are physical theatre. I would like to have seen more of that.