I was at the Barbican at the weekend to see Ivo van Hove’s production of Antigone, in Anne Carson’s new translation of Sophocles.
No, that’s a lie. I was at the Barbican to see Juliette Binoche playing Antigone. What I saw was Van Hove’s production.
Binoche – she looked at me once, I swear! And at one point was sat on the edge of the stage, not twelve feet from our Row B seats! – was great, but really she wasn’t there as an actress; she was there as a star. The performance she gave came filtered through my preconceived sense of her as a ‘personality’, itself partly made up of all the characters I have seen her play on screen till now, each of those characters only ever iterations or manifestations of her presence – that mixture of watchableness, knowableness and unknowableness that go to make a star.
(I don’t mean this facetiously. An actor is someone who is good at pretending to be other people. A star is someone who is good at pretending to be themselves, or themselves as others see them. In the cinema a film is projected onto a screen. When that film features a film star, there are a hundred, two hundred, a thousand additional projectors. Each audience member is a projector.)
That Juliette Binoche is as good an actress as she is means that this situation didn’t devolve to her simply standing on stage being Juliette Binoche. At most, she was stood on stage being Juliette Binoche being Antigone. But she was never being Antigone.
This suspicion, that the production was a vehicle for its star, wasn’t helped by Van Hove’s attitude towards her. You got a strong sense that he would rather have been directing her in a film.
(You can see a staged reading of Anne Carson’s Antigonick here, which is largely identical to the script of this production. There is minimal additional movement in Van Hove’s production, minimal set. What there is, in addition, is the cinema.)
The stage, in Jan Versweyveld’s design, was set out in letterbox format, with a wide, flat backdrop that was often used for film projections, and a raised stage that put certain scenes very much at screen level, while other scenes took place on a slightly lower transverse strip across the front of the stage – the difference in height between them being roughly the same as that in a cinema between floor and screen.
In the opening scene the backdrop showed a desert landscape. Binoche entered from the left and walked slowly across stage, her hair and clothes tousled by wind coming from the wind machines off-stage to the right. It was like a scene from Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, with Juliette Binoche recast as Count Almásy staggering across the Libyan desert.
Faced with an auditorium full of people wanting to see a film star in the flesh, in the four dimensions of theatre time and space, Van Hove starts by giving us Binoche as if on film. Continue reading