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Review: Juliette Binoche is a considered Antigone in a subtle production


Juliette Binoche as Antigone. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

Ivo van Hove who brought us the emotionally charged A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic last year (and now transferred to the West End) has taken quite a different tack with Greek tragedy Antigone.

The stage is slightly more dressed but this is play that despite being cut to an hour and 40 minutes straight through feels considered and unrushed. The actors take their time so that you become just as absorbed in what they are doing - where a hand falls, a posture or gesture - as you are in what they are saying.

When Antigone (Binoche) appears, walking slowly in a wind which ruffles her lose clothing and sends rubbish shuffling across the stage, it is emblematic of the quiet battle to come with Creon over the burial of her traitorous brother.

Once she sets in motion events by telling her sister she will bury Polynices, against Creon's wishes, a huge sun like disc appears, marking a slow time to her tragic demise and Creon's downfall. Images are projected against the back drop, ordinary scenes of people from different parts of the world, a reminder of life going on that is cemented in the final scene when we get a snippet of Lou Reed's Heroin.

Brooding music plays and the performances are appropriately considered. No regal persona for Creon instead he arrives as if it's another day at the office, sitting relaxed on a leather sofa to talk of his reasons for not allowing Polynices burial.

There is no specific chorus, the actors double up so that their commentary drifts in and out of the conversations almost like a conscience. The tension is in the stubbornness of the two protagonists: Creon believes he makes the rules while Antigone believes the Gods decrees should be followed. Neither will back down and it is like watching a car crash in slow motion.

And yet there is an occasional playfulness, a purposeful irony in the guards comments when he comes to tell Creon that Polynices has been given burial rites.

The performances have an elegant and contemporary ordinariness to them helped by Anne Carson's modern adaptation. When Creon is faced with the consequences of his actions and egocentricity the world doesn't pause, it just carries on.

@Polyg said afterwards that all Greek tragedies have the same message: 'Don't mess with the Gods' and in this production that message couldn't be more stark. Creon for all the importance he sets upon himself is rendered almost insignificant, a micro bump in the passage of time. It is a symbolic cold wind of reality that book ends the play.

Ivo van Hove's Antigone is a production that is unconsciously the sum of all it's parts, one to get immerse in and experience.

It runs at the Barbican Theatre until 28 March.


Juliette Binoche was in The English Patient with Ralph Fiennes who is in the Bond films Skyfall and Spectre with Mr W.