Antigone – review

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Antigone

Dir. Peter Swallow

* *

Among the best known Classical tragedies, Sophocles’ Antigone is given a makeover by French playwright Jean Anouilh, translated into English by Barbara Bay and brought to us by director Peter Swallow, with mixed results. Two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, are charged with shared governance of Thebes, but their greed drives them apart leading to civil war. The brothers slay each other outside the city walls and Polynices, the aggressor, is left unburied as punishment by their uncle Creon, now ruler of Thebes. Oedipus’ daughter Antigone defies the edict of her uncle and proceeds with the burial rights for her brother, sparking a clash of wills exploring the nature of authority and the courage it takes to defy what is wrong.

Anouilh’s adaptation of the classic breathes fresh, vibrant life into the myth, exhibiting clear parallels to the Nazi occupation of France – for the adaptation was written under Nazi censorship – and adding elements of meta-theatre, creating a discourse on the nature of tragedy. Bay’s translation, however, loses some of the nuance of the original and occasionally just sounds clumsy: ‘I’m with you lock, stock and barrel’. Considering the contextual significance of the script, it was disappointing to see no apparent effort to bring this out in the performance, either in its historical setting or in a modernised one.

Sparse and minimal, the intended direction suited the aesthetic perfectly, but more often than not the physicality of the performers seemed robotic and awkward. Presumably tense from the inability to use elaborate staging and set to deflect attention, much of the cast did not appear comfortable; a shame, for at its heart the staging was strong.

Bafflingly I felt more sympathy towards Creon than Antigone and I am distinctly unimpressed by that. Simon Lamb as Creon has been gifted with an incredible voice, though he did have a tendency to become Jean Valjean at moments of heightened drama. His justifications for his actions were full of genuine emotion, but this did not always come through in his performance: lacking in vulnerability, his feelings for Antigone were not clear, making his motivations occasionally impenetrable. I could feel no sympathy, however, for Antigone herself (Adryon Kozel), who though textually an infuriating character, is one who we should be inclined to support. As it was, this was unfortunately a flat performance resulting in Antigone appearing whiny and annoying. Creon had my absolute backing in wanting to put her to death. I could have been saved from this view had there been greater variation in Kozel’s emotional levels and commitment to what is a very difficult part to play. Andrew Illsley as Jonas the guard deserves special commendation for his well-considered characterisation and total commitment, making him a joy to watch.

The bottom line is that I just wanted more. This could have been a good show, but a tragedy should tug at the heartstrings and the emotion was not present, leaving me cold.

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