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Antigone excellent, but where are the crowds?

Francois Tredoux

Antigone, by Jean Anouilh
Ranza Skordis
The Chorus: Quentin Krog
Antigone: Vicky Davis
The Nurse: Kelly Prior
Ismene: Christiena Otto
Creon: Yvonne Pedretti
First Guard: Yolande Rabe
Second Guard: Elmeri van Heerden
Third Guard: Izaan Venter
Haemon: Rudolph Maree
The Table: John Swart
HB Thom Theatre, University of Stellenbosch. From 27 to 31 May.

I’ll get to the play later. I want to let off some steam first.

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. It’s slick, it’s funky, it’s sometimes funny, even a little sad. It’s always energetic. It’s not long (that pompous bit of philosophical nonsense dialogue between Neo and The Architect in Reloaded felt much longer); it’s not too intellectually taxing.

The publicity department did the usual press release thing, and then some: they even got an insert on e-tv’s 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 didn’t 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, don’t 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 we’ll 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 play’s the thing, etc. Ranza Skordis is a Masters student at the Stellenbosch Drama department. She directs Anouilh’s play with clear insight into the central problem of tragedy: if it’s preordained, what role does free will play? (Well, I always thought that was the central problem of tragedy.)

Skordis’s 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 Shakespeare’s comic sidekicks irritate me. A playwright shouldn’t 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 didn’t want to see so much of them.

I wanted to get back to the tension that is almost tangible when Antigone (Davis) and Creon (Pedretti) are having their wonderfully energetic face-offs. That’s when it gets really exciting: two women, both powerful, with opposing ideas of what is right, battling it out for the final say. I never once got the impression that the roles were too mature for the actresses; their emotional pitch and psychological justification were excellent.

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 director’s aim, to universalise the play’s 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 don’t think we should hope for bigger crowds. Nowadays you don’t find the great unwashed mob eating their onions and garlic at the amphitheatres. Pity, that.

boontoe / to the top

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