DAY 143 IN THE BUNKER.
We got apples today. They were bitter, small and unwashed but they were apples. I haven’t even seen them since our first batch ran out and that was… Day 12 if my diaries are correct. It’s a sad state of affairs when a batch of sub-par apples become worth risking a life for, but here we are. A bunker with corrugated iron walls a couple of metres under what used to be Islington, before the explosions began. With six of us in a room barely big enough to house two for a long time, there’s only so much you can do to while away the hours before the all-clear siren (it’s coming this week, I can feel it), so today we dove into the red book and found an old favourite, one that we all knew back to front. The story of Antigone.
Cass took the title role of Oedipus’ daughter again, who fights to bury her brother Polynices after he dies in battle against their brother Eteocles, who fell in the battle as well. Amanda was King Creon as always, their uncle and ruler of Thebes, who decrees that Eteocles will be buried with full military honours for defending their city, but forbids Eteocles from being buried, leaving him to rot where he fell. This means his soul cannot pass into the afterlife, and Antigone sets out to bury him and do right by the gods, invoking the wrath of her uncle and king in the process. It’s an old one, even for us, but everyone knows the characters and it takes our minds off where we are, so it always works for us.
We make the most of what we’ve got. A small space in the centre of the room covered by boxes and our small table becomes our stage, our threadbare lights and a couple of torches set the scene. It’s really the performances that give it life, with each of us trying to make sense of where we are and why we’re here by throwing ourselves into the roles with as much passion and gusto as we can give. Cass and Amanda are obviously the stars of the show, with Antigone radiating as righteous a furor as Creon’s is tyrannical, but this time, Hester surprised us all with a knees-up Mother Brown cockney reading of her messenger character, which brought desperately needed light to the sheer amount of dark throughout the story.
Since we only have a storybook version of the tale, this version clocks in at around an hour with a lot of the connective tissue of the plot and the story coming from segments sung in close harmony. We have a lot of time on our hands. The problem is that while the harmonies are magnificent, there’s a lot of words to cram in to these parts and not a lot of tune to speak of, leaving everyone having to listen very carefully to make out what exactly anyone’s saying in these parts.
I’ve got to say, these segments speak to a larger problem that we have with the story. Save for Hester’s messenger role, the characters aren’t performed in a way that gives them an awful lot of, well, character. While each performer gives their all, the direction of each character leaves them all sounding and acting a little too samey for them to truly stand out.
The up-side is that everyone performing clearly worked incredibly hard to bring their character to life, doing what they can despite the clunky dialogue and slightly shallow character direction. I’m starting to believe, though, that once we get out of here, I’ll never quite be able to imagine the story happening in a different place, and that, is high praise indeed.
Antigone is on until 12th march 2016. Click here for tickets.