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Antigone, National Theatre

Sophocles, in a new version by Don Taylor
Directed by Polly Findlay

Pros: great performances, short, snappy staging.

Cons: Greek tragedies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea – they are by definition depressing!

Our Verdict: an engaging and worthwhile rendition of a Greek classic.

Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph

Re-imagining ancient Greek tragedies is always a difficult task. It seems that, because these plays have been around for literally thousands of years, any conceivable adaptation has already been done. It can therefore be difficult to avoid the clichés, and the most successful revivals are often the ones where the actual execution of the play is prioritised over flashy sets and lighting. Polly Findlay’s offering works because it does just that – honed and streamlined performances guarantee am engaging and entertaining production of Antigone.

Findlay places the action in a 1970s command and control centre. I think I speak for a lot of people in saying that I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that it was not set during World War II – that has been done do many times that the obvious parallels have become clichéd. Despite having access to the technical whizz-bang powers of the Olivier, designer Soutra Gilmour delivers a very humble – although sublimely finished – set, which is essentially just a set of office rooms on a revolving drum. The idea behind this show is ostentatiously not to wow the audience with technical wizardry, but to hone the performances of the tormented characters. Indeed, it is quite refreshing to see this in the Olivier, which is often the home to impossible technical feats!

Antigone itself is, unsurprisingly, an incredibly depressing play. Naturally, this is a trademark of Greek tragedies, but this one seems to touch on all the taboos: incest, arrogance in the face of the gods, infanticide, you name it. Also a trademark of the genre, most of the main characters end up dead, disfigured or broken-hearted. Any production of Antigone needs to know how to channel this, but also keep it relevant to a modern audience and somehow address the often dubious lessons which the script aims to teach. The solution is two-fold: a good translation, and a good deal of cutting. No one wants to hear Creon deliver a half-hour monologue about the evils of allowing women into politics. Thankfully this adaptation does just that: it delivers a shortened, snappy and powerful version of the script.

The performances, as mentioned above, are the key focus of this production in a strategy which, I am delighted to say, pays off. Erstwhile Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston takes the lead as Creon, and is charismatic, paranoid and stubborn in the role. It is a very convincing and engaging rendition of the character, with Eccleston adding some lively touches to Creon’s personality, although there are a few lulls in between pieces of genius. Antigone, played by Jodie Whittaker, is portrayed as passionate and obstinate in another good performance. A surprise came from Luke Newberry as Creon’s son Haemon, who gave an extraordinary performance in his scene trying to convince Creon to listen to the advice around him. With a touching, funny and polished rendition of this fairly minor character, Newberry showed skill which you would have expected of a seasoned theatrical veteran, and not from a young performer like himself. Hats off to him for this.

All in all, this is probably the best version of Antigone I have ever seen, and probably will ever see. It ticks all the boxes and remains short, powerful and engaging. You can’t really go wrong with this one, so get your tickets now.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Antigone runs at the National Theatre until 21st July 2012.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/69357/productions/antigone.html

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