Thursday 20 June 2019

Burial bloodbath would have left Heaney red-faced

Bruce Arnold

Seamus Heaney calls his play, 'The Burial at Thebes', a "version" of 'Antigone'.

It is faithful to Sophocles, changing the original in certain respects, including the humanising of the Chorus -- helped by the acting of Barry Cassin, Des Cave, Kevin Flood and Eamonn Hunt -- and making the Sentinel into a good comic turn.

Sophocles does this very well himself, but Chris McHallem gives a vivid and compelling performance of the part and it is a high point in the production.

Gemma Reeves, playing Antigone, gives an effective opening account of her fiery character, but then freezes up. She presents the agony of her condemnation by Creon as though numbed by shock.

It is an entirely human interpretation of the part but it somehow detracts from the poignancy of her situation. Antigone, whose brother's body has been cast out on the rocky hillside to be devoured by dogs, on Creon's orders, should give nobility to the expression of fellowship in love, a need not well-served by the frigid style.

The real fault in this presentation of the play, fine though the language may be, is in the character of King Creon, as played by Declan Conlon. The King changes his mind in the play, reversing his terrible decision to bury Antigone alive in a hillside cave, but does it too late and loses, in the process, his future daughter-in-law, his son and his own wife in what is one of the most searing theatrical tragedies ever written.

Conlon's acting is not adequate for this; it is one-dimensional, undermining one's belief in the change of heart so that the tensions never relax, and the hubris leads to no nemesis.

We are as tense at the end as we were at the beginning, and the lavish spread of blood on the corpses of Creon's son and wife would have embarrassed Sophocles and probably Seamus Heaney as well.

Patrick Mason's direction is a transition from slick stage movements, which set the tone at the beginning, and then fail to embrace the tragic carnage at the end.

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