You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: ‘Antigone’ Starring Juliette Binoche

Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche, Kirsty Bushell, Samuel Edward-Cook, Toby Gordon, Finbar Lynch, Patrick O’Kane, Kathryn Pogson.

“Antigone” becomes a plea for pluralism in Ivo Van Hove’s new staging. Teamed up with the French actress Juliette Binoche by London’s Barbican Center, the Belgian director turns Sophocles’s tragedy into a rallying cry against the us-and-them, black-and-white mentality of contemporary global politics. Canadian poet Anne Carson’s new translation, often insistently feminist, advocates the act of listening as the starting point of tolerance. It might lack feeling, but this is an urgent “Antigone,” less about cathartic release than a real-world response.

Eschewing the high-definition naturalistic acting that made his production of “A View From the Bridge” so engrossing, van Hove instead honors tragedy as an enacted event. His staging is stark and gestural, emphatic even. Microphones add to the sense of distance as actors plant their feet and pronounce, speaking slowly and deliberately so that every single sentence can land. Carson’s translation is meticulously clear, and her language remains the central focus throughout. The result is a drama that wants hearing and heeding.

Binoche’s Antigone and Patrick O’Kane’s Kreon are fundamentally opposed to one another. She exists in the wind-blasted desert; he, in a wintery city. Both landscapes, seen in Tal Yarden’s vast video projections, are flatly monochrome: all sand, all snow. Behind her is the sun; behind him, the moon. As the play goes on, the two become entrenched and absolute: Kreon in his determination that Polyneikes should remain unburied, Antigone in her determination to bury him as a sister ought.

Carson lays bare the language of that opposition: good and bad, friend and foe, ally and enemy. O’Kane’s Kreon, a scowl of a man, is a leader under threat. While his people would forget the recent war, he uses it to clamp down on dissent, citing their security. His Thebes is “a place for law-abiding men.” Both words land with equal weight.

In accepting no exceptions, family ties or otherwise, Kreon reduces Antigone’s defiance to plain antagonism. All nuance disappears. There’s a beautiful choral speech that talks of “many things strange, terrible, clever, wondrous” and so on. Each adjective is subtly distinct in its meaning. “Answer me this,” Kreon demands, “and no long speeches.” Above all else, Carson’s text would have us listen.

The failure to do so is portrayed as a particularly masculine trait. Here the men are all bald and bullet-headed. O’Kane is the Default Man: white, middle-aged, black-suited. His chorus is diverse, old and young, male and female, black and white. It is played by the other characters, including Kirsty Bushell’s Ismene, Finbar Lynch’s Teiresias, Kathyrn Pogson’s Eurydike; all individuals that make a population, each with their own story.

Jan Versweyweld’s design stresses the point, with shelves stacked with video tapes that stand for the surveillance of a paranoid state as well as the home movies of a family home. Every individual has a history with a childhood, loved ones, hopes, dreams. Antigone, as Kreon portrays her, is simply an enemy of the state, dehumanized and impersonal. Binoche, though she garbles some of her lines, suggests that Antigone grows into that role; in being so reduced, her antagonism only increases.

London Theater Review: 'Antigone' Starring Juliette Binoche

Barbican Centre, London; 1160 seats; £55 ($83 top). Opened, reviewed March 5, 2015. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Production: A Barbican and Théâtre de la Ville-Paris production in association with Toneelgroep Amsterdam of a play by Sophocles in a translation by Anne Carson in one act.

Creative: Written by Sophocles; Translation by Anne Carson; Directed by Ivo van Hove.  Set and lighting, Jan Versweyveld; costumes, An D’Huys; sound, Daniel Freitag; Dramaturgy, Peter van Kraaij.

Cast: Obi Abili, Juliette Binoche, Kirsty Bushell, Samuel Edward-Cook, Toby Gordon, Finbar Lynch, Patrick O’Kane, Kathryn Pogson.

More Legit

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    Listen: Santino Fontana on How Broadway's 'Tootsie' Was Adapted for Our Times

    Broadway’s “Tootsie” has turned into one of this season’s Tony Awards frontrunners, winning raves for its deftly funny update of potentially problematic source material — and for a firecracker cast led by Tony nominee Santino Fontana (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Frozen”), who makes his character’s transformation, from difficult actor Michael Dorsey to female alter ego Dorothy Michaels, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content