A message of hope with rare magic and stunning beauty
Three years after his adaptation of the Mahabharata at the Boulbon Quarry for the Avignon Festival 2014 -a play of a stunning beauty in a great location- Antigone by Satoshi Miyagi was undoubtedly the play that we could not miss for any reason. With its aesthetic beauty and rare magic, the play is a complete success delivered with remarkable grace. Based on the Greek tragedy play written by Sophocles, Satoshi Miyagi -at the head of the Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre in Japan- uses both Greek and oriental references that breathe new life to mythology.
The story is about Antigone, a woman disobeying the King, her uncle Creon, when she decides to give her brother Polyneices the same funeral rites than those given to her other brother Eteocles, who is believed to be a traitor. After the fratricidal fight between Polyneices and Eteocles, and in the light of Antigone’s decision, Creon decides that her punishment will be death. Locked away in prison, she kills herself. At the beginning of the play, a short summary in French of this Greek story, playing on the difficulty for the Japanese actors to speak French, contrasts with dramatics events that will happen. The fate of Antigone summed up in a burlesque way sets the tone of this universal play that speak to all of us, with no exception, almost 2,500 years after when it was written.
The feminist vision of this Avignon Festival, that was a wish from its director Olivier Py (who is used to saying: “my enemy is patriarchy”) is perfectly embodied in this play. Facing death, Antigone makes the decision to stand by her convictions rather that submit blindly to authority. She chooses to defy the laws of her uncle in order to follow her personal values and respect god’s laws.
While we could expect a tense atmosphere regarding Antigone’s story, what strikes the audience in this play is the water covering the stage floor of the magnificent Pope’s Palace. Each of the eight actors moves slowly in the water, wandering, choosing their own paths in this huge courtyard. They carried candles and the gentle light reinforces a feeling of harmony. Stones are located at the middle of the stage, and at each side. What looks like a “zen” garden conveys a sensation of quiet atmosphere in a peacefully world, which contrasts with the infinite forces that will be unleashed, disrupting the balance of power and sealing the fates of each characters. A sensation which is also reinforced by the austerity of the great wall of the Cour d’honneur du palais des papes, where the shadows are projected.
The main characters are duplicated: Antigone, her sister Ismene, Creon, Haemon (son to Creon). Thanks to this audacious choice, it reveals a remarkable command of the art of scenography. On the one hand, we have the actors who speak, on the other hand, the shadows projected on the huge wall. In other words, the voice and the body, the “movers” and the “speakers”, the logos and the pathos. This duplication reinforces the complexity of the characters in a world, inspired by oriental wisdom, where nothing is totally black or white contrary to our standards in the western world.
In the same way, the water on the stage, apart from its esthetic dimension, underlines the frontier between the world of the living and the one of the dead. Hope is what is left at the end, when everyone is equal before death, even if the balance of the world is disrupted on earth and values fall apart. This explains this quiet atmosphere during the play, giving it its rare magic, while exalting its message of love. This is why Satoshi Miyagi declares that it is not a “tragic and sad play, but a celebration to appease minds”.
Eventually, one could not dream of a better play for the Avignon Festival 2017, in the great Cour d’honneur of the Palais des Papes. Standing ovation of the audience at the end of the play when the candles float on water, flames gradually disappear, but light shines brighter in our hearts.