Edinburgh Fringe 2011
What would you give your life for? Do you believe in a cause so much that you would die for it? In Sophocles’ timeless tragedy, fate plots an unhappy path, which leads Antigone to the point of self-destruction.
Sophocles’ Antigone (c.442 BC) focuses on the children of the incestuous marriage between King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. The play opens in the aftermath of a civil war. Oedipus’ two sons have fought and died on opposing sides. The new king, Creon, declares that the body of the loyalist Eteocles will be honored, whilst that of the rebel Polyneices will go unburied – the ultimate public shame. Antigone is the brothers’ youngest sister. She determines to save the soul of Polyneices from a fate worse than death by ensuring he receives a proper burial despite Creon’s decree. To serve natural justice, Antigone must break the law.
The shortened script on offer by The Theatre School is pitched exactly so as to provide a faithful and moving rendering of the complex tragedy whilst at no point feeling watered-down. Ample opportunities for drama and pathos are thus bowled to the all-female cast who secure an excellent batting average.
The performances are solid, growing with confidence as the plot unfolds. Creon is presented as a zero-tolerance populist who loses the affection of the citizenry through his unbending stance towards Antigone and her intended husband, his own son. At his side is a faithful, (at least until the wind starts changing) apparatchik whose sly opportunism perfectly offsets Creon’s pigheadedness. This character is an excellent example of how a cumbersome Greek chorus (in the original a body of city elders) can be simmered down into something less garish. Antigone and her more cautious sister Ismene are likewise perfectly paired. Both successfully illuminate resignation and anger as responses to grief.
The story is presented in contemporary dress. The soldiers are present and correct in androgynous battle fatigues and black berets whilst the civilians are sharp in three buttoned lounge suits. The set is Fringingly simple, clear and elegant. The best companies can amplify a drama with just a couple of chairs and this is showcased perfectly here. The lighting, sound and staging all contribute to a well balance piece focused on the drama, the essential outlook of any good production of this sort. Well-paced lighting and sound cues bookended the acts giving appropriate pause for reflection.
Other than a few minor line tumbles, there are only two noticeable stumbles. The first is that more effective use could have been made of Creon’s ever present security detail. Arguably some of the toughest time spent on stage is as a bodyguard to a central character – this production was well protected by two young actors on hand but unobtrusive. Perhaps if they, rather than the king himself, had been the ones roughly treating Antigone at the outset then Creon’s later loss of control and violent outbursts might have been even starker. Secondly the use of obviously stage cigarettes was off-putting and in the early scenes seems to throw the gals off their stride. The parents in the audience should take heart that their progeny are evidently not full time smokers.
Antigone promised a classic cocktail of ancient drama in a shorter than hour glass. The forty minutes spent on stage delivered an engaging, thoughtful and finally moving exploration of what happens when an immovable magistrate bends and breaks in the tide of human events.