Juliet Martin

Sophocles’ Antigone will be a familiar story for many of us - Creon, King of Thebes, has left the body of the traitor Polynices to rot outside the city’s walls. Anyone who attempts to bury it will be punished. This presents a problem for his sister Antigone, daughter of Oedipus: an unburied body dooms the soul to wander forever, so it is considered a familial duty of the highest order to provide proper burial rites. From here the story hurtles to its tragic conclusion, and Jean Anouillh’s adaptation is one which embraces this inevitability with metatheatrical flair. ‘Her name is Antigone’, Rachel Oyawale’s Chorus announces, ‘and she’s going to have to play her part right through to the end.’

It must be said that as striking as Anouillih’s iteration of the tragedy is, it is not an easy text to manage. The modernity of the dialogue (in Barbara Bray's translation) and the setting lends a nice sense of immediacy to proceedings, but the metatheatrical elements are a little unwieldy in places, and the text dates itself in a number of respects, such as in its discussions of femininity (the ceaseless references to Ismene’s being the ‘pretty’ sister are particularly tiresome). It is a credit to the Ben Galvin’s direction and to the whole cast, then, that this production is as engrossing and poignant as it is.

“The overall standard of acting was impressively high, exemplified by the strength of the ensemble.”

Oyawale’s metatheatrical commentary is handled with skill, and her singing, played over the sound system, adds an impression of plaintiveness to scene transitions. As the opening scenes unfold, Kelly Stewart’s Nurse has an excellent restlessness about her, countered by the quiet nihilism of Aine McNamara’s Antigone. McNamara is saddled with an especially challenging role; Antigone is waiting for death. It’s all a forgone conclusion for her, and there is a sense of ennui to her, of an almost Hamlet-like distance from everyone else. As the plot progresses she does grow more heated, and this is where McNamara shines, but I couldn’t help feeling that she was rather too low energy at the very beginning. Antigone is immersed in her own thoughts, certainly, but occasionally McNamara’s delivery slipped into woodenness - as if we were watching someone who didn’t care to be on stage, rather than Antigone herself not caring to live anymore. Bringing both a sense of lifelessness and energy to the stage simultaneously is undoubtedly tricky however, so it’s hard to hold this against McNamara. This feels especially true given the intensity of her performance as the tragedy progresses, where her impassioned exchange with Creon is a real strong point.

The overall standard of acting was impressively high, exemplified by the strength of the ensemble: Clara Morel’s frantic Ismene is a particular highlight, as is Theo Collin’s Haemon. Rosy Sida is tasked with Jonas, one of the soldiers guarding Polynices’ body, which she handles with humour and sensitivity (especially given that some of the soldiers’ dialogue also felt dated in its characturish treatment of the working class). Paul Storrs’ Creon was similarly striking, with Storrs oscillating from the appearance of a poised, calculating leader to an embittered, frightened one as the plot reached crisis point. While all independently strong, Ben Galvin’s direction ties these performances together, producing clear relationships and stakes. His direction is nuanced and attentive, and handles sightline constraints of the playroom with ease.


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My only real qualm with the production was the use of design. Charli Foreman’s set, while pretty enough with its vaguely classical bronze bowl and pedestal, felt oddly arbitrary to me.  It added little to the sense of setting, while Daniel Dickins’ lights were also rather bland. It felt like Galvin was trying to establish a sense of blankness, of an ‘anytime, anywhere’ setting, which while not especially inspiring, was functional. But I couldn’t help wishing that Galvin had taken a more decisive aesthetic approach, even simply making this blankness a tad more elegant, instead of leaving us with mismatched costumes and a set design which felt as if it had wanted to make a statement, but hadn’t quite mustered the courage.

Design issues, however, were relatively minor, and did little to detract from the overall success of the production. In all honesty I can’t say I especially like Anouillih’s treatment of the ancient material, but this cast and crew have put together a genuinely engaging evening of theatre, with a number of truly exciting performances.

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