Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Antigone

Sophocles, translated by Robert Fagles
Theatre Lab Company
Riverside Studios
(2010)

Production photo

"Whoever places a friend above his country is worth nothing," says King Creon in Robert Fagles translation which is used by TLC in this production and that conflict between personal or ethical duty and the good of the State is at the heart of Sophocles tragedy.

The sons of Oedipus agreed to rule over Thebes in alternate years but Eteocles refused to step down and Polynices came with an army from Argos to claim the crown. In battle the two brothers kill each other and their uncle Creon takes power and declares that Polynices be treated as a rebel, denied the rites of burial and his body left to rot where it lies. The brothers' sister Antigone decides it is her duty to give him burial, although the punishment for doing so is death. Her sister Ismene agrees to help if it is done secretly but Antigone refuses to hide her action and proceeds alone.

Sophocles does not rehearse the rights and wrongs of the brothers' conflict and in Antigone presents a young woman who never questions where her duty lies. For an audience in Athens 2450 years ago the blood duty of the ritual and the reaction of the gods which determine the action may have been contemporary belief but Antigone remains as a prototype image of the protester who says 'not in my name, 'whatever the risk and when Haemon, her betrothed, stands up to his father we have the younger generation challenging the values of their elders. It is not surprising that this is a play that resonates with relevance through the centuries.

Designer Maira Vazeou has given it a contemporary setting outside a shell-blasted building with piles of rubble and a barbed wire fence but the dress avoids any particular dating and Anastasia Revi's production makes no attempt to draw any particular parallels. She simply reminds us that the choice between political expediency and personal morality is still with us.

Her chorus of three virile young men (she really should have cut the line where they tell Creon they are too old) largely speak as individual voices, occasionally coming together in sung or chanted unison. In Robert Finlay, Chris Gunter and Matthew Wade she has strong and rich-voiced performers who make the ritualised gestures and choreographies she has given them grow from feeling but their vocal delivery often places an emphasis on certain words or on the structure of the verse when a more natural delivery would clarify sense.

From a low humming that develops into a sung threnody (in Greek) from Antigone there is musical support throughout on tambours, pipes and bell-like gong. Composed and played by Anne Maolone and Noah Young (who also appears as a messenger) it is very atmospheric, though at moments it drowns out speech.

Lisa Stuart makes a strong, driven Antigone. As we hear the cries of vultures fighting over Polynices corpse she sets of at emotional full throttle. Sometimes pulling it back a little could make it even stronger. It is not until the appearance of Tobias Deacon's laid-back sentry to report her token burial of her brother that the intensity of the production relaxes. For a soldier who describes the trepidation with which he now comes before his king-general with unwelcome news his lack of tension is surprising but it does make a welcome change of pace.

As Haemon, Tyler Coombes builds his anger with and opposition to his father. His argument for reason and humanity rather than hieratic duty becomes increasingly passionate while Johan Buckingham's blind seer Tiresias provides another calmer figure until, trembling with possession, he makes his prophecy of the results of Creon's obduracy. As for Creon himself, George Siena, gaunt faced and black-garbed, makes a striking figure, all intellect rather than feeling until stricken by grief he crumbles, breast-bared and broken, his sharp-angled limbs creates a powerful image.

This is a production whose physicality produces emotional effect without having to comprehend any obvious significance in its rituals and gestures, although the preparation of Antigone for her entombment has clear references to the Greek Orthodox wedding service and the use of handfuls of sand trickled on the earth or thrown up in puffs behind shattered windows presumably refers to the scattering of dust with which Antigone performs the token burial of her brother.

Christina Thanasoula's lighting plot changes to match the mood or to separate the ritualistic from the more naturalistic episodes often, but not always, to great effect. There are too many occasions when the actors' faces are unlit, but this could be because the actors, constrained by a comparatively shallow acting space have difficulty in ensuring they are in exactly the right place.

Until 2nd May 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton