Tag Archives: Sophocles

"Antigone" at the New Diorama Theatre

My theatre year is off to a great start with a new company – Holy What – and a challenging version of Sophocles’ tragedy from Lulu Raczka. Interrogating the Greek classic, while using it as a source of inspiration, results in a piece full of ideas and surprises.

The obvious difference is that we see only Antigone – the one who defies the law to bury her brother and is executed as a result – with her sister. In this two-hander, the performers mimic other characters and, in some sense, act as their own chorus. But for me the bigger twist is that both are presented as youthful enough to still be playing games of make-believe. While turning them into wannabe clubbers and throwing in a Beyoncé track might be slightly predictable, making them so vulnerable is emotionally effective and raises plenty of questions about autonomy and responsibility.

Annabel Baldwin takes the title role with a tomboyish streak that makes you wonder about her motivations: how self-conscious is her rebellion? Might it even come close to a tantrum? Yet ‘Tig’ is an appealing figure through Baldwin’s energy, full of passion as well as pondering moral questions. Director Ali Pidsley takes the cue of focusing on the fantasies the sisters act out – imaginary trips to bars and pretend love affairs. These colour the distinctions between words and action that run through the text, as well as the heart-breaking questions of whether or not Antigone should act, and then what she should do next.

Pidsley keeps focus throughout: with Lizzy Leech’s circular stage, part play pit, part burial ground, and lighting from Tim Kelly making the action and ideas consistently guided. And there’s more. Raczka looks just as much at Antigone’s sister – prizes for the remembering the name – Ismene. Creating a brilliant role, in which Rachel Hosker excels, Antigone becomes just as much Ismene’s play, providing a new perspective. And it’s a view Raczka ensures we relate to. A long coda to the piece about Ismene’s future life shows how Sophocles has been used as a springboard to great effect.

Until 1 February 2020

www.newdiorama.com

Photo by Ali Wright

“Electra” at the Bunker Theatre

We are all used to seeing a Greek tragedy updated, and this new production from John Ward and DumbWise Theatre at the brilliant Bunker Theatre uses both Euripides and Sophocles to show the drama of the Argos royal family. As a political thriller, it is gripping, if not a little enthralled by its own modern touches.

Lydia Larson takes the lead and sets the tone of the piece. Her Emo Electra is suitably “relentless”, full of “scowl and spit and cry”. Towards the end, the portrayal of madness becomes a little monotone, with too much time spent on the tips of her feet, but Larson is convincingly cynical and inspiringly fiery. She’s clearly her mother’s daughter and the show’s Clytemnestra, performed by Sian Martin, is riveting. The Machiavellian queen only hints that revenge was the motive for murdering her husband, coldly dismissing her daughters and manipulating whoever, whenever, at any opportunity. Dario Coates works hard as the returning son and heir, showing depth as a fragile young hero, but this Orestes doesn’t stand a chance against these marvellously formidable women.

You see Martin’s talents most in a scene when Clytemnestra is interviewed on television. Introducing technology is a valid technique, employed before, that Ward uses to focus on the political revolution in the play. The Chorus become virile rebels and courtiers creepy civil servants (there’s strong work here from Megan Leigh Mason) with both parties full of realpolitik as they battle for “hearts and minds”.

The script falls over itself to introduce contemporary touches, from frozen party foods to fake news. The aim is surely to make the show feel relevant, but it lacks finesse. And there’s a reliance on expletives that reveals the language is too frequently prosaic. Some parallels with current events are a little forced – an emphasis on “Godless Greeks” is a clever enough move, but it fights with the religious content of the story as no character really rejects superstition.

The show’s achievements are nonetheless impressive. With the help of strong musical accompaniment – the cast all play instruments and sing – and commendable work from lighting designer Sherry Coenen, this Electra is exciting. The decision to show some violence on stage (contra classic Greek tragedy) and to make the Chorus so dynamic, results in an action- filled show that is consistently, if not constantly, stimulating.

Until 24 March 2018

www.bunkertheatre.com

Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

“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