Sunday, July 22, 2012

Antigone Review

Olivier Theatre, London

I remember studying Antigone at college and was intrigued to see this production because it had been receiving favourable reviews. I was particularly interested in seeing Doctor Who veteran Christopher Eccleston playing the tragic leader in this production.

The production is not set in its own time period. Rather, it is set into today's world of a modern block of offices. However this did not work because the production is a translation of a Greek tragedy, a dramatic genre that has been overwhelmed by the artistic ideas used to create the modern setting. Instead of the chorus speaking as one during scene transitions, as would be the norm in a Greek Tragedy, lines were given to individual members. Whilst this looked interesting, I still remember the chorus singing their lines wonderfully in the National Theatre's Oedipus, and I rather missed this effectMost of the characters' first entrances were not dramatic, especially Creon's, who is seen clearly bracing himself to play the role of king before walking in. Also, whilst I was looking forward to the tragedy that ends the play, putting it into a modern setting made it feel under dramatic. Furthermore, not even the modern setting could hide the Greek elements, particularly near the end, and these then looked out of place in a 20th century world.

Yet the cast were excellent in their roles. Christopher Ecclestone was a rather calm, yet firm and hardworking Creon. Yet as his leadership is called into question he lashes out, and laughs at the idea of listening to the people of Thebes. His patience wears thin as members of his family plead with him to forgive Antigone to the point where he becomes violently angry. When the ending came, whilst speaking with sorrow to the point of wailing, he does not break down entirely.

Jodie Whittaker plays a strong willed Antigone, who defies Creon and antagonises the chorus. Luke Newberry was a skinny and young Haemon, yet he was well spoken as he defiantly pleads with his father to repeal the sentence against Antigone. Luke Norris played the part of a nervous soldier who had to bring Creon the news that his laws have been defiled, all the time reassuring Creon that he was not a defiler. Jamie Ballard, as Teiresias, produces a terrifying prophecy and sobs at Creon's defiance, before yelling at him to make amends before it is too late. Zoe Aldrich, as Eurydice, played the part of Creon's fearful wife with calm determination in the face of the tragedy that unfolds in front of her. The chorus did well in giving their perspective on the events, from stunned silence to pure terror as the prophet forebodes the tragedy.

At times the set produced some interesting moments. It mostly consisted of chairs and desks, with papers and old computers stacked on top, around three glass cubicles. The Olivier Theatre's turntable would turn to reveal a corridor with grey cement walls that was only used twice; the most significant being the first scene in which Antigone meets Ismene secretly. This was effective in establishing Creon's hold on Thebes, as the two girls talk with their backs against the wall whilst checking for any nearby sounds. The death of the two brothers was indicated as the chorus watched the fight live from a screen, which reminds one of the image of Obama watching the attack on Osama Bin Laden's last hideout. The prophet's entrance is announced with the lights going out and machines starting up uncontrollably, signifying the gods' displeasure. Sounds and music were used to show the hustle and bustle in the offices, as the chorus went about their business.

The style of the original text was overshadowed by the ideas that were introduced when designing this production, which made the integral drama of this play feel flat. These ideas however were impressive, and the acting is good enough to see at a Bargain.

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