I fear the adaptation of classic work to modern theatre. Too often, the morality of a traditional script is lost in wayward attempts at making contemporary that which was not written to be.
Vagabond Theatre’s Antigone quelled any fears I had on the issue. I was immediately swept by a stellar cast in which no actor lacked presence or punch. Antigone, a Sophoclian tragedy, tells the story of a whimsical young woman pushing against her royal roots in civil unrest. The princess is perturbed by her brothers’ recent death, and stubborn in defying the King Creon’s orders to forget wholly of such loss. The play ends miserably, with the death of Antigone and her fiancé Haeman, a testament to misguided happiness and power’s corruption.
Ruth Goodwin, who acts the title role, filled each scene with well-executed passion and a natural innocence. Goodwin’s facial expressions— from furrowed brow to wide-eyed wonderment— were perfectly characteristic of Antigone’s free-spirited nature. Quick-witted articulation made Goodwin a standout even among the talented cast. From the height of tension to lowest lovers’ cradle, the chemistry between Goodwin and her on-stage love, Ryan Armstrong, is spell-binding. Armstrong further flexes his acting chops in the performance’s climax, a moment of electrifying passion and anger.
One-man chorus Graham Bonville also stood out for his well-timed narration of Antigone. Adrian Young, who acts as the conflicted King Creon, made the script come to life with a hearty voice, punctuated by sweeping hand gestures and great facial expressions.
It must be said that the venue posed some obvious issues in Antigone. Hosted in the basement of Princess Street’s The Mansion, the cramped bar was difficult to disguise as theatre. Lines of candle-lit mason jars framed a gothic-style brick wall— this lighting initially cast a soft glow over each scene, but soon came to cause issue when characters were blocked in dark corners. When cast members held candles deliberately, a symbol of each character coming to life, the lighting was effective. Otherwise, it cast shadows onto faces which require extra light to be effective. As a technical detail, heavier makeup would perhaps have helped to distinguish expression.
Director Nathaniel Fried described his venue as being an exciting challenge, and it is clear that his efforts best utilized a difficult choice for theatre. The performance was meant to be an intimate cast-audience experience, but became difficult when the audience was required to move room-to-room for some scenes. The transitions were well orchestrated by Bonville, but it was distracting to move during such an enthralling show. Notably, the cast worked very well with audience members and moved nimbly around people sitting on set.
An extremely well-acted performance which flawlessly adapts classic script to modern society, Antigone left me emotionally absorbed in each character’s theatrical world. It is a winter must-see for fans of classical theatre.
Antigone runs January 21-23, 28-30, 2011 in The Mansion Wine Cellar at 506 Princess St.
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