Originally devised as a part of the Contest trilogy, Too Late! Antigone by the Italian company Motus, is decisively against laying out an adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy. Instead it offers their take on some of the play’s crucial scenes, but interjects them with glimpses into the rehearsals, which include company’s thinking on this classic, as well as dilemmas that had to be solved and decisions that had to be made during the process.
In this way Too Late! offers more than a performative proof that some old plays still very much resonate in the modern world. This is a self-reflective piece from the two authors, Enrico Casagrande & Daniela Nicolò, who at the same time want to make political theatre, and are aware of the genre’s potential pitfalls. There seems to be a consensus about Antigone being suitable ground to explore modern day Italy, with Creon wearing a mask that looks suspiciously like Berlusconi – but most other interpretations are up for grabs. On display are two ways for the ruler of Thebes to die (an alteration to the original tragedy); Heamon is depicted both as a loud but easily distracted dog, and a stubborn son confronting his powerful father, while attempts at Antigone’s character range from the black sheep in the family to an imprisoned political activist.
The context for all these try-outs is only revealed through the ‘rehearsal’ scenes, when it becomes apparent that rather than taking on the role of an authority ready to reveal their politically engaged interpretation of the play, the company are more comfortable sharing all the gaps they couldn’t fill in their attempts to deal with the original play. Silvia Calderoni finds it impossible to relate to Antigone’s patriotic motivations, citing her sense of detachment from Italy; Vladimir Aleksic is constantly torn between two very different versions of Creon. Without each other, the scenes from Sophocles’ tragedy and the documentary passages would be reduced to naïve attempts at modernisation and self-sufficient autobiographical theatre. Together however, they create a structure that simultaneously criticises universal patterns of contemporary politics and disowns its authors from any didactic or academic pretentions.
A show as minimalistic as Too Late! would naturally have quite a few problems sustaining itself without a cast that wasn’t earnestly involved in the devising. Silvia Calderoni doesn’t hide her private tensions and frustrations – at one point she announces her dismay at the easy and dishonest route of irony so many political performances take – but rather manages to turn these potential acting hurdles into the backbones of her characters. In doing so she also sets a deeply intimate and alert atmosphere of the performance. Vladimir Aleksic accepts the sparing-partner role he’s given, as a wall to bounce ideas off, but this doesn’t prevent him from letting his experience of living in the turbulence that is Serbia inform the adaptation of Antigone.
It could be argued that the concept behind Too Late! asks the audience to be quite well acquainted with Antigone, if they are to understand the connotations of changes made – or indeed follow the plot. It could also be argued that questioning the decisions made in the creative process is a never-ending labyrinth, which is why the performance seems to end without good reason – although the authors are probably too aware of this themselves. Putting that aside however, Too Late! is still a rarity in the world of political theatre: a timid, unpretentious, yet direct performance, that dares to remind of both our political reality and the impotence of theatre in the face of it.