Review – Antigone, National Theatre

Tuesday 12 June 2012

“Did you enjoy the coup de théâtre?” Andrew asked at the Whingers’ post-show post mortem.

“The sandwiches wrapped in foil?” Phil wondered, brain slightly addled by emerging from an evening performance of Antigone to discover it was still daylight outside.

“No the haunted Newton’s Cradle.”

Greek tragedy device No 1: Greek tragedies are timeless and have resonances in any age. Of course they do. Can’t you see it’s all about Tony Blair? Isn’t it always? Set it in the present day or nearest equivalent. Where are we? A suite of nondescript offices that might be a war room where people gather round a screen echoing the famous White House Situation Room photograph of Obama and co watching the demise of Bin Laden.

There are no mobile phones (hurrah! and even more surprisingly none going off in the audience) so we’ve pushed back a few decades and added the Executive Ball Clicker. Andrew had filled his time wondering when someone would start playing with it and as his seat was in the front row the temptation to set it it clacking himself was almost too much. The suddenly Newton’s Balls began swinging without Andrew’s assistance; cause and effect, how one action leads to another signalling events starting to go seriously wrong for Creon, King of Thebes (Christopher Eccleston). Well, in truth they’d been going wrong from the start. It’s Greek tragedy you couldn’t really have it any other way now would you?

Greek tragedy device No 2: Cut the interval. It’s all done and dusted between the pms of 7.30 and 9.05. During which time we see Antigone (Jodie Whittaker) sentenced to death by the intractable Creon for daring to defy his edict and bury the body of her brother who was fighting for the throne. Two of her brothers have died but if Creon gets his way the rebel one Polyneices won’t get holy rites or a burial and will be left as carrion. That’ll teach him.

Greek tragedy device No 3: Add complications; Antigone is Creon’s neice and his son Haemon (Luke Newberry – rather good) is betrothed to Antigone and is understandably a bit miffed by the situation to say the least. Antigone and her siblings are also the children of Oedipus which can’t help much either. The most compelling scene sees Haemon trying to persuade his father that condemning Antigone won’t go down well in the polls while the toadying Chorus dither amusingly in the background.

Greek tragedy device No 4: Did we imagine we heard Dale Winton shouting “Bring on the blind fortune teller!”? Teiresias (Jamie Ballard) will sort Creon out. And so he does, well sorta, his predictions of doom and gloom are almost as shocking as his makeup which probably looks OK from the back of the circle but close up reminded Phil of a monster from an early Doctor Who which makes it difficult to forget Eccleston played the ninth Doctor.

Greek tragedy device No 5: It’s mostly tell rather show at the end of course. We don’t get to see the tragedy, just the reactions to events (much like that White House photograph). Cue bodies dragged on stage and requisite anguished howling. The Whingers always feel slightly cheated. We blame Sophocles. We blame the Greeks, but then who doesn’t these days?.

As Antigone virgins the biggest surprise was how engaging it is and how clearly it’s presented. Thank you director Polly Findlay and thank you Don Taylor for this (written for TV) version. No need to swat up on a synopsis beforehand here. Even the Whingers could follow. Can’t say fairer than that.



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