“Antigone” at the National Theatre

As if to remind us that Greek woes are nothing new, the National Theatre’s new production of Antigone shows a state in danger of becoming incapacitated by chaos. And the bankers can’t be blamed on this occasion. Sophocles’ drama continues the tale of the Oedipus clan – it’s the story of the clash between his daughter and Thebes’ new ruler, Creon. Easily read as a conflict between the individual and the state, it could be set in pretty much any time and place. Polly Findlay and her designer Soutra Gilmour opt for a 70s feel that works well: distant, yet recognisable.

Don Taylor’s eloquent version drips with Shakespearean references: it’s speedy, clear and entertaining. But what to do with the chorus? As in many modern productions of Greek tragedy, the chorus is turned into a group of individuals with their own characters. The result here is that the commentary of this group of civil servants and military types often comes too close to office tittle-tattle. The move allows Findlay to get the most out of her ensemble and adds weight to some brief but effective observations about the sexism within the play, but despite all this, these aren’t fully developed characters and that can be unsatisfying.

But given the strength of the main performances, this is a minor gripe. Jodie Whittaker is tremendous in the title role. Full of convincing indignation about the fate of her family, she has a manic edge that gives some credence to the idea of her as “an enemy of the state”, adding drama and giving her character depth. Christopher Ecclestone’s performance as the tyrannical Creon is not to be missed. Powerful and controlled, for a portion of the play Creon seems admirably rational, and Ecclestone reveals his hubris with remarkable skill.

Until 21 July 2012

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 1 June 2012 for The London Magazine

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