Antigone Southwark Playhouse 21 May

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'Antigone' is not a liberal (or feminist) tract and Antigone is not Sophie Scholl! (From Southwark Playhouse Facebook page)

So at long last someone has solved the problems of staging Greek tragedy.  While the pre-show publicity had threatened all kinds of nonsense about the struggle for freedom in the contemporary Middle East, the production got it right.  Antigone confined in a chador as in her social position is not some feminist heroine but on the edge of madness struggling with a conflict that is really past bearing, but the adamantine nature of a Sophoclean hero means she has to go on and accept the impossible.  Here Creon’s suffering effectively mirrors hers but he’s really out of his league–he wants to refuse the burden of his own necessity but then finds even that is beyond him.

The setting, which to me was essentially Iranian-Moghul, worked really well!  There was a sense of conventions which you did not have to fully understand.  You could accept that these things could happen there, that people might be constrained by the curse of the Labdacids without needing to worry about who they might be.  The chorus was about the best-handled I’ve ever see, with singing, dancing and appropriate reactions to what was going on among the principals–a triumph of precise direction.  The setting also meant that the chief characters were gorgeously apparrelled, as they would have been in Athenian performances of 2500 years ago, and appeared as people whose fates could sway a realm.

Moghul court (I'd say) with obligatory fatigued soldier in background (from Southwark Playhouse FB page again)

I thought that Eleanor Wyld was very good as the nervous, struggling and overborne Antigone and the pain of Jamie Glover as Kreon effectively mirrored hers.  And I liked Deborah Grant’s Eurydike, full of foreboding, as well.  I think the thing only needs a little running-in and some more consistency to become a complete triumph.  I didn’t understand why we had Christopher Ragland doing the guard who had failed to prevent Polyneikes being buried as an American soldier caught out at Abu Ghraib, and Edward Petherbridge gave us a compositely-Shakespearean Tiresias, delivering the Fool’s material in the manner of Lear.  I’d also seen the obligatory attributes of katiemitchellism–TV cameras, lecterns, soldiers in modern uniform, clipboards–rather too many times before.

Quite often whoever it was who was speaking remained unlit–that may have been deliberate in the case of Antigone, unable to break free from the darkness that surrounded her, but it happened with other characters too.  Some of the voice-overs I couldn’t hear and a few words of dialogue were blotted out by trains passing overhead.

But this production promises to become very very very good indeed…

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