I saw Antigone at the Hope Theatre in Islington on Saturday 5th March.
It was beautifully played by a five woman cast in the round in a tiny, blackened cube of a room with an audience of perhaps 30 so close to the performance area that I worried about tripping the actors with my feet.
They started with one of the actresses reading from a book: "everyone knows that story"; they then gave a minute-long retelling of the Oedipus story so that we would know the background to this tale. Sophocles, of course, would never have needed to do this. Then the action started.
A feature of particular brilliance was that the chorus was played by the cast chanting a capella. This sung accompaniment to the main action made the chorus a key addition to the play.
But the actresses themselves were wonderful and the translation (which bore so many points of resemblace to the one I had read, below) was rendered into realistic dialogue. The Sentry who rushes in grumbling that he didn't really want to come and tell this dreadful news, don't shoot the messenger, and going all around the bushes to avoid telling the terrible tale was sharply told by King Creon to get to the point. These five actors made the play come alive as a very real contemporary dilemma: obey your conscience or obey the law. It really didn't matter that they talked about the gods. This adaptation was faithful to the original play and was still exceptionally relevant to day.
Antigone is the third of Sophocles' Theban plays, though, I am told, the first to be written. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus who famously killed his father and married his mother. But Antigone has fresh troubles. Her brothers, ruling turn and turn about as Kings of Thebes, have fought and killed one another. The new King, Creon, uncle to Antigone and father of her fiancé Haemon, has declared that one brother shall be buried with full honours while the other, the traitor, shall be left for the dogs and carrion birds. Antigone decides to bury the unburied brother in defiance of the law.
Creon is busy being King when a Sentry rushes in and unwillingly tells Creon that the body has been buried. Creon assumes (as the sentry thought he might in a 'don't shoot the messenger' moment) that the sentry or his mates committed the crime and tells the sentry that he will be killed if he can't produce the culprit. So the sentry decides to run off. But then he returns, having caught Antigone in the act of reburying her borther after the sentry and his mates had dug him up again. So Creon condemns the unrepentant Antigone to be walled up, presumably to starve to death.
And the chorus quote a saying: "Sooner or later/ foul is fair, fair is foul/ to the man the gods will ruin." Is that where Macbeth got it from?
Haemon comes along and Creon asks Haemon about the judgement and Haemon, in a wonderful piece of rhetoric, says that of course he honours his father and anything his father does must be right but the people of the twon are rather shocked by Creon's judgement. Creon and Haemon end up trading insults. Brilliant.
Then the famous blind seer Tiresias comes along and prophesies that Creon is going to regret his action ...
A classic. March 2016; 58 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57