Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Antonioni Project

To the Barbican for a production by Ivo van Hove and his Toneelgroep Amsterdam. I had very high hopes for this work, after their extraordinary production of The Roman Tragedies, which I saw in 2009. Like that show, there's a lot of multi-media in The Antonioni Project - not totally surprising, given that the production is based on three films by Michelangelo Antonioni. In The Roman Tragedies, the film was to do with the constant exposure of political lives, both public and private, to the scrutiny of the media. Here, the film-making itself almost became the subject: the production's probably best described as a live film - every scene is shot and projected as it is being performed. At times this can be stunning - for example, when bluescreen is used to place actors who you can see on stage into a pre-recorded and totally "real" environment - but very often it feels as if the technology has been allowed to become the point. The narrative and the characters just aren't interesting enough to hold their own against all this, and so the production seems rather "New Labour" - all style and no substance.

At the same time, it's very fascinating and suggests lots of possibilities for a future project I'm currently mulling over. The characters are living in a world where everything is conceived in mediated terms, perhaps especially human relationships. So they can only operate through layers of media-tion: and the apparent distancing achieved by the technology is a powerful metaphor for the way they see their own lives.

All this made sense to me intellectually as I watched the piece - but it didn't work in terms of emotional engagement. There was no compelling narrative to pull you along, no character to draw you in. I want to treat these subjects in the new play I'm planning with Hui and Tony - but we've got to make sure we don't lose the humanity.

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