When Juliette Binoche steps out onto the stage as the doomed Antigone in Ivo van Hove's quasi-contemporary reimagining of Sophokles' version of the Greek soap opera against images of a barren desert no-man's land, it is not as a revolutionary heroine, however purposely she strides. Rather, as the opening argument between Antigone and her sister Ismene makes clear in Anne Carson's new translation, she is in mourning for her brother Polyneikes, who has been slain in the Theban civil war, while her other brother has been honoured by King Kreon.
In a stately, suitably funereal affair, it becomes clear too that in the fall-out of such close to home collateral damage, that this is a family at war with each other and tearing itself apart now their world has been rocked by such a bereavement. The Chorus here are battle-weary survivors, and at times it's as if they're sleep-walking to their own destiny as slow-motion footage of city street scenes flickers behind them. The effect of this is that when a black tie wearing Kreon, a steely Antigone and a furious Teiresias do explode into anger, the effect is all the more shocking.
Carson's translation is an easy mix of classical portents and modern lingo of the 'top-notch' variety, and Van Hove's direction for this co-production between Theatre de la Ville, Paris, Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen and Edinburgh International Festival is painstakingly played out on Jan Versweyveld's set dominated by a giant moon.
It is the performances here that matter, however, with Patrick O'Kane a forceful presence as Kreon, Kirsty Bushell an equally charismatic Ismene and Binoche a mighty sparrow full of heart in this most battle-scarred of everyday tragedies.
Supported by the Pirie Rankin Charitable Trust
The Herald, August 10th 2015