Puppets make tragedy palpable ****

from: Theaterkrant 20/9/2012

We hear the menacing sounds of exploding shells and rattling machine guns. The conflict playing out before us looks set to lead to inevitable disaster. But by the time Polynices finally falls to the ground we have, remarkably enough, already seen three performers depart this world, one by one. That’s because in this new adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone by director Ulrike Quade and choreographer Nicole Beutler, Polynices is a puppet – a puppet whom the same three cast members bring to life at the start of the play, in keeping with Japanese bunraku tradition.

Despite their dark costumes and balaclavas, puppeteers Hillary Blake Firestone, Cat Smits and Michele Rizzo are very much visible and present on stage. Their alternating role is especially powerful when Antigone is delirious with rage and despair following the death of her brother, as they try to hold her down, to literally restrict her freedom. And the performers also follow Ismene in the funeral procession, speaking comforting words, offering their condolences. They’re pulling the strings, but they’re also anonymous followers in the crowd.

Except for Ismene’s epilogue, Antigone features only a few fragments of text, consisting mostly of poetic sentences or announcements for the following scene projected on a screen hanging over the stage. The three puppets – Polynices in camouflage trousers, and Antigone and Ismene in elegant long gowns and pinned-up hair – are miniature people who communicate their feelings through movement, making the tragedy palpable. In a similar way, unfocused frustration translates into Hillary Blake Firestone’s furious, almost compulsive dance solo to pounding house music.

Quade and Beutler bring to the stage only the barest and most confronting facts of Sophocles’ tragedy, completely dissociating them from time and place. The perfection that both directors strive to achieve in their work is very much evident in Antigone in the ingenious puppetry and in the performances – the cast are faultless as they merge the Bunraku artform with their own roles.

What would Antigone have been in our times, a whistleblower or a kamikaze pilot? This is what Ismene – Antigone’s sister who chose life – asks herself at the end. Given the many trouble spots around the world, her reflections are as relevant as ever.

© Marcelle Schots