Choral complicity: music & power

Sue Moss

Globalisation is creating a world economy and global popular culture that breaches borders and nation states. In its latest production of The Antigone Sketches Part I and slip synthetic spaces, IHOS Music Theatre Laboratory (IMTL) slips between myth, historicity and Marinetti’s Futurist Theatre movement to convey the impact of psychic repression and social exploitation in the nation states of Thebes and Elizabethan England.

The Byzantine Orthodox tradition of form and aesthetics dominates the movement, sound, colour and voice of The Antigone Sketches. Directed and designed by Jindra Rosendorf and Constantine Koukias, this piece situates the audience in Thebes as we engage with the contemporary ethical resonance of Sophocle’s tragedy.

To begin with the end. Antigone hangs herself. Creon (Alfie Lee), the king of Thebes, has declared Antigone’s slain brother Polynices a traitor and left his body outside the city walls. Creon has forbidden his burial and orders the death of any citizen who defies this edict. Antigone has secretly given Polynices a ritual burial transgressing King Creon’s authority.

The story is conveyed by a chorus (Matthew Dewey, Alex Dick and Tom Hogan) commenting and interpreting the drama. Bare-chested and in white boxer shorts they sit in separate bathtubs, hands red-lit to the wrist. They orate, intone and betray, although a lack of unison in relation to the leader’s voice indicated under-rehearsal.

In the maelstrom of Antigone’s story, Antigone Missarvidis’ dramatic voice rises as a high pitched counterpoint constituting both question and threat to Creon’s edict. Image projection provides fragments of Greek text. Safety resides in uniformity and the complicity of the chorus, alternately seduced and intimidated by Creon’s authority.

When Antigone hangs herself the chorus ritually lights candles, announcing her death in an explosive bathtub percussion. This is a powerful scene. The sound assaults our senses while the stage is swathed in mist.

Damien Wells’ strong lighting design is steeped with blood and menace. The tragedy of Antigone is the compliance of a self-same populace, who deny her dissenting voice and action. Compassion is silenced by laws and sanctions issued by the powerful.

Guest director Christos Linou continues the theme of state-sanctioned repression and its impact on populations in slip synthetic spaces. Hugh Covill’s edgy, electronic sound design is thoroughly synthetic in its encompassing intensity.

Textual excerpts from Shakespeare’s sonnets and the activist Emma Goldman present Elizabethan England in a period of global expansion. The populations of nation states are coerced or usurped by the bureaucratic machinery of empire and mercantilism. Elizabeth the First (Georgina Richmond) strides her stage with stylised pomposity. Her all encompassing authority will not tolerate subversion or questioning of the corporatism and class structure which maintain her royal power. “God is everything. Man is nothing,” Elizabeth intones, accompanied by Glenn Schultz’s flugel horn and Joe Cook’s trombone.

This is not anarchist theatre in the tradition of Marinetti’s Futurists. The production is overloaded with metaphoric images reflecting the great divides of power, gender and wealth emerging as a consequence of 16th century globalisation. Seljuk Feruu’s scenography and costume design enhance Linou’s metaphors: hessian poverty, slaves compulsively jumping to exhaustion, imprisoned frogs, a sausage necklace, blank pillow-faced executives and a cage of steel spikes, recalling Kafka’s In the Penal Colony with the machine’s tortuous inscription of state laws on flesh.

Hugh Covill’s sound design is a highlight of this production. The score’s resonant silences make way for other sound sources including the queen imperiously banging her staff while the barefooted or rag-bound feet of slaves provide a shuffling counterpoint. The queen’s notion of free speech competes with the babble and hearsay/heresy of the streets.

The concluding sequence of discordant plate shattering; a queen dispensing red paint with bodies falling into this spill of red; grey-suited corporates, their necks weighted with ingots and the crashing of stage-flats, left the Peacock performance space a wreckage.

slip synthetic spaces takes the neuroticised territory of despotic monarchs anxious to maintain their authority as the starting place for score and story. This production is a poignant reminder of the consequence for subjects refusing obeisance and our implication in the choristic conformity of the heralded economic benefits of globalism’s advances.

This latest production provided an opportunity for the IMTL to extend their theatrical experience in association with a visiting composer, director and scenographer. While strong in theatrical effects, the question remains: does slip synthetic spaces generate any frisson, new momentum or insight into contemporary music theatre practice?

To paraphrase the frontispiece of Antigone, these questions are to be continued…

The Antigone Sketches Part One, designer/director Jindra Rosendorf & Constantine Koukias, performers Craig Wood, Alfie Lee, Jack Benson, Antigone Missarvidis, Matthew Dewey, Alex Dick, Tom Hogan; slip, director Christos Linou, composer Hugh Covill, performers Benson, Georgina Richmond, Dewey, Wood, Dick, Rachel Guy, Hogan, Holger Saile, Ainslie Keele, Debra Jensen, Rhonda Niemann, Madeline Swann, Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Dec 7-9, 2001

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 32

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2002
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