Described as "a modern adaption of Antigone in the year of the Olympics" this reworking of the classical Greek play, directed by Theatro Technis founder George Eugeniou, is staged in direct response to the current political and economic crisis in Greece. One wall of the foyer is plastered with newspaper cuttings of contemporary news reports and scrawled with the slogan "Respect existence or expect resistance".
The audience enters to find what appear to be kids playing a game in a schoolroom; the play has been topped and tailed to present it as the dress rehearsal of a school show. When the game is halted and they rush off to get ready for the performance, a montage is presented of images of events in Greece, demonstrators and police in confrontation as the Greek people protest against the strictures being imposed upon them.
Against the sound of unrest and political protest, a woman appears whom we will later recognize as Antigone. She piles the schoolroom chairs into a cave-like structure, crawls inside and hangs herself with her own scarves. Is this self sacrifice to preserve the state or in protest against it? Or an image for the way in which Greece has too many times torn herself apart? Or should we simply take it in the same way as those renaissance theatre dumb shows that gave a foretaste of the plot?
However you read it, it is a powerful image which gives way to darkness through which advance diagonal lines of black suited figures that intersect as they cross the stage to the ominously militaristic sound of composer / sound designer Aristarchos Papadopoulos's music. Eugeniou certainly knows how to build tension and expectation. These figures reassemble as the chorus, whom ruler Creon identifies as men who have always been reliable supporters of the State.
The production separates the choral passages from the action, most of them starting with the chorus ranged on the raised end of the playing space and after a few notes of music coming forward. It is a formal approach that seems very Brechtian, though its effectiveness is marred by some occasionally very busy movement; in one section in particular, the actors accents (many of them are Greek) make the text difficult for English ears to understand against some very forceful music which has not been composed to match the speech patterns.
The story of one young woman's defiance of authority by giving funeral rites and token burial to a brother who has led an army against Thebes and whose corpse it is therefore decreed should be left exposed outside the city walls is told in a straightforward way. Its presentation is tightened by some judicious cuts, but there is no attempt to impose some directorial concept so it comes over simply and clearly despite some variation in the quality of the performances.
As Creon, David Middleton presents a pragmatic politician—this is a man who has worked out everything he says beforehand—only towards the end of the play when the horror of what has happened hits him does he become a human being with feeling, a change which is the more effective in contrast to his earlier over-conscious delivery. We have already seen Tania Batzoglou play Antigone in the company's production of Oedipus at Colonnus, now she gives her added passion while Leo Ashizawa repeats the wheezy Tiresias he presented us with in Oedipus Tyrannus, though he makes the blind seer older and less impassioned.
There is a good Haemon from Nikos Poursanidis, just the kind of good looking, strong minded young man you would expect of Antigone's fiancé and however dutiful a son ready to outface his father. The messenger who brings Creon news of Antigone's lawbreaking is one of those roles that is a gift to an actor. You can make your mark with a single entrance with this ordinary soldier, really worried at bringing bad news to his ruler. It can be very amusing, by contrast heightening the tragedy, though this production underplays that element. Dimitri Raftopoulos concentrates on his confusion, walking backwards and using a delivery that sometimes blurs the sense. I did not think it worked.
In Antigone, Sophocles presented us with what might be considered the first protest play and I quite see why George Eugeniou wanted to produce it now. It is not a parallel to contemporary events but it does echo that spirit of defiance and cry for justice of a society that too often has been under the heel of dictatorial regimes.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton