Review: Antonioni Project, Barbican

I left the Barbican tonight with just one thought – that I’d never get the 145 minutes of my life back. If I were smarter, I would have left during the 10 minute intermission just like the people sitting to my left and right. Alas, a lesson learnt for next time.

This Dutch production, by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, is a performance of a trilogy of Antonioni’s films, L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse. The programme tells us that these films are ‘accounts of modern life that investigate vulnerability, instability and the elusiveness of emotional feelings’. I must confess that I’ve not watched any of his films but I am afraid I couldn’t detect any of these in this production.

The whole performance is in Dutch (presumably because the company is Dutch and not because the language contributes something significant to this play) and the performance on stage is filmed and projected onto the screen above the stage with subtitles. It is almost as if we’re watching a film rather than a theatrical performance. Some of the technical aspects are interesting, including the fact that the subtitles have to be synched with the actual performance in real time. Equally interesting is some of the camera work. The jazz band that appears during the intermission is like the elixir of life to a confounded audience.

Aside from these ‘saving’ factors, there is little else in this production to engage the audience. The acting, if you can call it that, is wooden; most of the time the actors are only delivering lines. This isn’t a performance that revolves around lots of talking – ‘Words are useless’ is one of the lines – but you don’t need words to act.

This production is either like a cheap day-time soap opera (with the same wooden acting) or a 1970’s cheap porn flick. There are men in shiny suits trying to bed women who spurn these men; there is a bed in the corner where some of the characters meet, one assumes, to copulate; and there is an older woman in a dubious kaftan observing most of the ‘action’ in the latter half of the play. There is a scene where a much younger man tells the matronly older woman, ‘You’re built for all kind of debauchery’ at which point, losing the will to live becomes attractive. The only way I could have tolerated this production was with the aid of alcohol but unfortunately, the Barbican doesn’t allow people to take alcoholic drinks with them to the theatre and, besides, the bar was shut during the very brief intermission.

Love, loss, loneliness, grief, lust are all powerful emotions and we don’t need a lot of words to express these. This production leaves you cold and bereft of any feeling at the end of it. This is pretentious guff masquerading as theatre.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Antonioni Project runs till 5 February.

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