Review: Antigone, Greenwich Theatre

“A brother condemned to walk forever in the shadow of death
A family teetering on the brink of catastrophe
A dystopian world where one girl dares to take a stand”

Antigone is Actors of Dionysus (AOD)’s touring adaptation of Sophocles’ Classic: a story of death, loss, power, love, and familial tragedy – as is so common in Greek texts. For those of you less familiar with the Classic, let me give you a quick rundown of the key players, because that will be integral to how much sense this review makes.

Polyneices and Eteocles are brothers – sons of Oedipus (yes, that Oedipus) and Jocasta – who agreed to share the leadership of the city of Thebes by alternating yearly. They have two sisters: Antigone and Ismene. Antigone is engaged to marry Haemon, son of Eurydice and Creon (the latter being Jocasta’s brother). Eurydice and Creon also have another son, Megarues.

Still with me? Great.

Despite the sheer amount of Ancient Greek names, this adaptation, written by Christopher Adams and directed by Tamsin Sasha, is not set in the past, but rather, propelled into a futuristic dystopia where drones watch the inhabitants of the city; the history of the world is digitally categorised in the Archive; and souls are physicalised in the guise of chips (computer chips; not tasty, fried, chipped potatoes).

We enter the show after the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices, which occur at each other’s hands: Eteocles is granted a state burial with full honours by Creon, who is now the new ruler of the city, while Polyneices’ soul is forbidden to be put to rest – anyone who tries will be put to death. Antigone, spurred on by an intense sense of duty to her brother, refuses to obey Creon’s decree and attempts to put Polyneices’ soul to rest nonetheless. Thus begins a fatal power struggle between Antigone and Creon, one that cannot help but to pull in the ones they love.

This adaptation has a few really great things going for it. Firstly, I love the physicality of the Archive. Having the actors multi-role as the Archivists, gives it a really poignant feeling of omnipotence and the simple, synchronised yet slightly stilted movements, are a nice tip of the hat to what feels like dial-up analogue connections. While the archive seems to have all the information that one could hope for, it churns out that information in ways that are not always the most helpful. Furthermore, the content seems to be editable by anyone with a high enough access code (barring being able to delete Donald Trump’s “grab them by the…” speech – apparently no one could touch that): a very neat reminder of how easily we believe information because the Internet tells us so. Aside from the lovely, modern messages the presence of the Archive sends, it is also an ingenious way to keep the tradition of the Greek chorus present in a world so ruled by technology.

Adams has also done a fantastic job of making the story accessible to people who are newbies to the Classics while remaining true to the original. The story is clear and easy to follow with no prior knowledge of Sophocles’ Antigone, though of course, this knowledge does allow one to make deeper connections and find the Easter eggs. The collaborative process gives the production its genuinely relevant feel. There is a delightful mention of how much of the population of Thebes had tweeted #FreeAnt after Antigone’s imprisonment that elicited a generally accepting chuckle.

However, even with the modern twist, one must remember that this remains a Greek tragedy. Tragedy comes hand in hand with a connection to the characters: a hope somewhere that things will turn out well for them. Clocking in at a 75 minute run time, AOD’s Antigone is short but sweet. Perhaps it is the shortness of the play that leaves the characters so woefully unexplored, which is a shame because it is so clearly evidenced that the characters of this world are much more rounded than their original counterparts. They are very human, with convictions and flaws, but I felt deprived of finding out more about them.

In this version, it is explicitly stated that Megareus is killed in the civil war that resulted from Polyneices and Eteocles’ battle for power, which serves to heighten why Creon would be so adamant in his stance on Polyneices’ fate. Yet, to no fault of Nicholas Cass-Beggs, who portrays Creon, this doesn’t seem to have any effect on his belligerence towards Antigone. He seems to hate her decision simply because he sees her as trying to belittle his own power – which doesn’t have the same sort of character gravitas as an internal battle between: the loss of one’s son; the duty to one’s niece; the power one has; and the desperation to protect one’s second son. Similarly, Holly Georgias Antigone also has disappointingly vague motives. By framing this version in the future, Antigone’s character has to focus less on the Ancient Greek importance of the burial of the dead and more on the cessation of her brother’s suffering. Character development is a tricky area: in the time of the Classics, it was the done thing for a character to have one fatal flaw – in this case, one might argue that it is pride for both Antigone and Creon – but once you start to flesh out the characters, there is a certain level you have to achieve for them to feel properly real. Considering so much of the show balances on Creon and Antigone, that level seems to have just been missed as halfway through the show, I didn’t really care about the majority of them, and tragedy works best when one is invested in the characters.

This is not true of all the characters though! Eurydice stands out in this respect. Attributed little more than a short speech near the end of the original text, AOD’s Eurydice is, instead, a force to be reckoned with. She is a very powerful woman with a deep understanding of the way the world in which she lives works and she stands up well to Cass-Beggs’ power-hungry Creon. To me, she is a much more successful feminist presence than Antigone. Crystal Brown is magnetic in Eurydice’s portrayal and also a pleasure to watch as the patois-speaking, blind, Tiresias.

Antigone is a strong show, I’m not saying otherwise. It is an enjoyable, well-told show with relatable characters, but the tangibility of these characters falls just short of what they could have been. However, whether you are a Classics buff or someone who’s never heard of Sophocles before, the show has something for you. AOD’s adaptation is one of which they should be well and truly proud.

Antigone played at Greenwich Theatre on October 30 and is touring nationwide until November 27 2017. For more information and tickets, see here.

Photo: Alex Brenner