Antigone

Inua Ellams after Sophocles
Regent's Park Theatre
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

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Zainab Hasan (Antigone) and the Antigone ensemble Credit: Helen Murray
Pandora Colin (Eurydice), Shazia Nicholls (Ismene) and Tony Jayawardena (Creon) Credit: Helen Murray
The Antigone ensemble Credit: Helen Murray

Inua Ellams’s fast-moving Antigone is set in 21st century Britain. It touches on the institutional abuse of Muslims, the dishonesty of politicians and the collective resistance this can sometimes generate.

Among the issues that get listed though never argued or explained are the Partition of India, the drone bombing of weddings, the school surveillance of kids by the Prevent policy, hijabs, the thousands of kids arrested, refugees, secret detentions and children of a British citizen being left to die in Syria. A young chorus occasionally dances across the stage adding to the list in rhymed verse.

Many of these provoke the Muslim Polyneices (Nadeem Islam) to drive a car into pedestrians. During his attack, he is killed by his brother, the police officer Eteocles, who also dies.

Their uncle, Home Secretary Creon (Tony Jayawardena), standing for the role of Prime Minister, increases his chances of becoming PM by announcing the abolition of existing human rights law and stripping Polyneices’ dead body of its citizenship, saying he will keep it locked away unburied unless Pakistan wants to claim it. He declares “the sun rises for Britain and sets for terrorism”.

Antigone (Zainab Hasan) is appalled, washes the body and is sent to gaol for this crime labelled treason. A protest movement develops against her imprisonment led by Creon’s wife Eurydice (Pandora Colin) and Antigone’s sister Ismene (Shazia Nicholls).

It is easy to sympathise with Antigone and the protesters given we never get Creon’s rationale for his treatment of the dead Polyneices. His wife Eurydice even claims she hadn’t heard that he planned to keep it rotting somewhere unburied.

Some of the play’s details are mentioned so swiftly you might miss them. Characters have limited dialogue to indicate their relationship and little more than statements to show where they stand. And not all of that feels real; for instance, when Eurydice speaks to Antigone about her relationship with Creon, she says simply, “we used to read the human rights act to each other.” That got a laugh from the audience.

The play is lively, confidently performed and entertaining, but lacks depth in its depiction of the characters and the important social issues that are supposedly at stake.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna