Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Bitch, Antigone - Comedy Review

What: Bitch, Antigone
When: 9 - 21 March 2020
Where: Upstairs, The Butterfly Club
Written and directed by: Steven Dawson
Performed by: Angus Brown, Steven Dawson, and Scott Middleton
Scott Middle, Angus Brown, and Steven Dawson
For those of you who feel lost and bereft in the large abyss of emptiness left by the end of Carry On and Monty Python you have a reprieve! If Michael Palin and Kenneth Williams had a love child, it would look an awful lot like Bitch, Antigone which is playing at The Butterfly Club at the moment.

The brainchild of Dawson, who is is also the brains behind Outcast Theatre (the longest established LGBTQIA+ theatre company in Australia), the show Bitch, Antigone is a a cross between Noises Off and a pantomime, with an unhealthy splash of Shakespearean language - well, nothing is perfect after all... The story follows a troupe of actors in ancient Greece as they prepare to perform the Sophocles play Antigone at the Dionysia Festival.

Dawson plays a aging actor who specialises in playing female actors, Mynniscus. Imagine a Joan Crawford temperament with the body and pomp of Robert Morley and you are on the right track. Mynniscus has spent his career playing female leads. He is tired, bored, sad, and lonely and he has had enough. Antigone be damned!

Enter Brown (Theodore/Creon) as the stalwart 'The show must go on!' character and Middleton (Callipedes/Ismene) who is eager to take on any and every role and who believes improvisation is the answer to everything. The first moments of the play are the best and I found myself in gales of laughter at all of the self-deprecating in-jokes about actors and literature. It really is very, very clever.

As the actual performance of Antigone begins, the conceit holds with fun irruptions of reality where the actors struggle over names (suddenly ancient Greece is full of people named polyester, menopause, and antihistamine...) and 3 actors are fighting for the limelight with little respect for the actual story. This is one of the clever layers Dawson has built into the melodrama. The Sophocles play Antigone is a play which questions the rule of order over chaos. Bitch, Antigone is all about chaos reigning supreme over order. This show has all of the things you might expect in a lampoon of this play including the ducks machine.

Although it sets out to be a fun lark, the show Bitch, Antigone has a lot of elements to make it high art. It is a shame it doesn't quite meet it's potential.

While the laughs do keep coming, they peter out in intensity mainly because the jokes repeat and there is little which comes later in the show which is a fresh idea. I also think there is too much Antigone and not enough meta frame content. Let's face it - Antigone is not a funny story even if you turn Ismene into Paris Hilton.

Some of the humour is lost because of a last minute injury to a cast member. Brown literally took on the role of Creon 2 days ago and is still on script - although the progress he has made in 2 days is phenomenal and there are a lot of actors out there who could take a lesson from him! Whilst his performance is right on point in style and energy I suspect some of the physical clowning around the idea of up-staging is lost at the moment which is a shame and might be part of why the second half peters out a bit.

This could also be the direction though. One of the things I noticed is that there is not a lot of attention paid to physical shapes on stage. The costumes are divine (I want one of those dresses/togas), and the props are good. It is the bodies which lack creativity. This may be where the production pays too much homage to it's film ancestors.

There is a white (ish) sheet across the back of the stage to allow entrances, exits, and off stage comedy. I think Dawson has missed the opportunity to play with this as a photo studio back drop. If you have a Paris Hilton character why not play with the idea of selfies and paparazzi?

Bitch, Antigone is not a show which has reached its potential, but it will bring a lot of laughs to people who really miss that older English style of comedy. It is also an unintended metaphor to what Anglo-centric history looks like to anyone not born into that tradition. Oh, and the lip sync stuff doesn't work and probably can't be saved. Just get rid of it!

2 Stars

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