Entering the beautiful, old-world venue on St. Kilda’s cultural nerve-center, Acland Street, we of the impressive turnout are promised “The Queerest Tragedy You’ll Ever See”. Soon after loitering in the lobby for the required minutes, thumping music, pink everywhere and a set involving an inflatable pool, fish tank, desk with computer and six broken pillars delivered just that, if not in the intended sense of the word “queer”. With such an eclectic spread, we settled in to see where this was taking us.
Rising from the floor, Louisa Wall’s Dee Tritus half-rapped us an introductory soliloquy which wavered between clever wordplay and baffling irreverence as an unnerving story about an incestuous family, washed ashore on an island, having to continue their seed with each other for lack of anyone else to fulfil the human need for procreation with. One thing was for certain: the historical tragedies of Euripides, Sophocles I, Aristophanes and Ptolemy were not here to be paid respects to. They were here to be at once parodied, and crammed with social commentary.
It has become an en vogue thing, amongst certain circles of the Melbourne indie-theatre community, to take some historical or classical form of theatre, and rather than adapt it or reshape it, simply cram it so full of idiosyncrasies, word-plays and straight up vulgarities that it becomes a distortion of itself. Done poorly, it is sheer torture. Done well, it cane be an engaging, enlightening, entertaining and thoughtful satire. Fortunately, and with finesse unbecoming of such a little known playwright, Zachary Dunbar’s “Antigone X” takes a flying leap into the latter.
Amidst references to works as diverse as Oedipus Rex, Medea and Angels in America, courageous a capella vocals by Phoebe Mason in the role of Antigone and Briony Farrell in the role of Ismene, and some impressive physical and dialectic performances by the chorus, all intercut with the smooth, sexy and excellently controlled narration by Wall, we have a tale not unlike that of Antigone, thinly threaded together by heavy stacks of wordplay, a clear parody of the progressive’s obsession with what the proper way to address this or that is, and self-loathing antagonism by Nick Clark’s Uncle Creon a pot-shot at the conservatives. You’ve got to be on to fully appreciate Antigone X, at least under Katy Maudlin’s rapid-fire direction, but it’s worth that extra cup of coffee before the show.
However, perhaps the most affecting thing about “Antigone X” is the gravitas which punctuates the breezy nature of the play. Though still fast, there are some moments of poignancy which touch on, or more glance toward, the deeper aspects of the social commentary. A clear nod to the play’s classical origins. These never overcome the joyful nature of the rest of the show, though, rest assured.
After all, gay means happy, doesn’t it?
Review by Max Davine