Antigone excellent, but where are the crowds?
What do you have to do to get bums on seats? Here is a play about important issues (doing the right thing versus doing the expedient thing; accountability; moral choices) that affect the human condition. Its slick, its funky, its sometimes funny, even a little sad. Its always energetic. Its not long (that pompous bit of philosophical nonsense dialogue between Neo and The Architect in Reloaded felt much longer); its not too intellectually taxing.
The publicity department did the usual press release thing, and then some: they even got an insert on e-tvs Arts News slot, where the presenter mispronounced the name of the play and apologised for it the next evening. The production was publicised in all the local newspapers. They didnt skimp on photos, either. And yet, on Friday night there were only about 40 people in the audience. Where were the French students (yes, the play is presented in an English version, but still, dont they do Jean Anouilh at this university?). Where were the classics students? Or their lecturers, for that matter? Where were any of the other 13 000 or so residential students who study at this institution of higher learning? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the sleepy little village in the winelands has an average of 17,34 barmen for every student inhabitant. Maybe well see bums on seats if the ticket price includes a free beer, or if there is a happy hour during interval.
OK, enough bitching. The plays the thing, etc. Ranza Skordis is a Masters student at the Stellenbosch Drama department. She directs Anouilhs play with clear insight into the central problem of tragedy: if its preordained, what role does free will play? (Well, I always thought that was the central problem of tragedy.)
Skordiss direction is, for the most part, tight and neat, although I got the impression that the whole is slightly uneven, even if the parts are in themselves quite smooth. The problem seems to be the large part that the comic relief plays here. This is a personal bias: I like my tragedy uncontaminated - even Shakespeares comic sidekicks irritate me. A playwright shouldnt have to cater for sissies who cannot stomach undiluted hubris and its inevitable effects.
Here there is just too much comic nonsense, in the form of the three guards. Yes, they are quite funny, in a slapstick way, and their comic timing is almost always spot-on. But I didnt want to see so much of them.
Quentin Krog as the Chorus invests his part with something akin to glee; he revels in the part and in the yobbo accent Skordis has him adopt. Some of those Stellenbosch barmen could learn from him how to mix unsentimentality and compassion.
The directors aim, to universalise the plays central issues, is complemented by the very effective and quite beautiful post-apocalyptic set. All hail the décor construction team, headed by Mervyn Williams.
Even though the play is still being performed from this coming Tuesday to Saturday, I dont think we should hope for bigger crowds. Nowadays you dont find the great unwashed mob eating their onions and garlic at the amphitheatres. Pity, that.
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