Antigone

Sophocles, translated by Shimon Buzaglo, adapted by Hanan Snir
Habima and Cameri theatres, Tel Aviv
(2007)

Production photo

The Habima and Cameri co-production successfully generates a powerful and realistic sense of an unfolding tragedy, leaving the timeless 2400-year-old play almost free of wrinkles. The staging of this production rotates between the venues of the Cameri and Habima theatres.

Hanan Snir adapted and directed this play, preserving its central themes yet refining the dialogue. In the process he dispenses with the classical poetry, rendering the work immediate and more comprehensible. The lucid translation from the original Greek into Hebrew by Shimon Buzaglo transports the play almost seamlessly into the twenty-first century. The Chorus in the original play is substituted by four veterans of the First World War. Each is adorned with medals to represent a heroic past. The four give the audience the background to the unfolding drama and mirror the crux of the play, namely the conflict between man-made laws and decrees of the gods.

The large stage is bare of any décor apart from the backdrop of a wall of off-white slabs with a hint of black soot. Bodies wrapped in white shrouds lie in a row on a slightly elevated centre stage, projecting a morbid atmosphere, which is enhanced by engaging music composed by the talented Yossi Ben Nun.

Corpses are the direct and immediate consequence of any war. A pungent smell of burning physically envelops the audience; causing some unease as it helps draws one in as an eye-witness to the drama.

The four First World War veterans provide the prelude to the unfolding drama, namely the battle for Thebes in which both of Antigone's brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, have been killed. Creon (Yigal Sadeh), now king, has decreed that while Eteocles, the defender of the city, should be given the usual respectful burial, Polynices, the traitor, must be left as carrion for scavengers. The death penalty is imposed on anyone attempting to breach this decree.

Antigone and her sister Ismene (Hila Feldman) are at odds. Ismene is on the side of caution believing the King's degree must be obeyed while Antigone, impressively performed by Miki Peleg-Rothstein, is militant and rebellious. Peleg-Rothstein passionately conveys her resolute determination to carry out and stand by her duty to her dead brother. Her moving speeches subject the four veterans and the audience to a deep-rooted conviction that divine law must transcend human laws.

Alon Dhan skilfully manages to generate dramatic tension and invest it with humour in the role of a messenger who has to convey to the king the "bad news" of the breach of the decree. His second appearance with Antigone, the law breaker, shifts attention from his personal relief to the build-up of tension fuelled by those present.

Creon is adamant that his decree must prevail but is eventually made to see by the blind prophet Tiresias, powerfully performed by Yossi Graber. He ratchets up the dramatic tension that leads inexorably to a tragic ending.

Snir steps back from Creon and Antigone and lets them present their respective views without passing judgement. Antigone is not the ultimate tragic heroine who sacrifices herself for supreme values but a devoted sister whose ultimate sacrifice is for an irreplaceable brother. Creon, the new king, is not the tyrant one might think him to be. His ultimate concern is the state and law and order. Snir's edited version of the play attempts to balance opposing views, leaving room for reflection. This production packs a gripping drama into 90 minutes.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson