(Rated 3/5 )
I absolutely longed to give this production a higher score. I do wonder if I went in with massively high expectations, which simply could not be satisfied. Why so much expectation? Well the play itself is a classic – probably one of the most famous of the Ancient Greek Tragedies – the power and impact of which is enduring as it addresses issues that remain with us today: Conflicts between the state and the individual, dictatorships, authority full of perhaps high IQ but controlling rigidity that will not allow any emotional intelligence through - leading to battles between legal laws and laws of the heart, law in dispute with morality, familial love set against a father or uncle’s need to dominate, male versus female in a society in which the former merits more than the latter… the head versus the heart. And in this particular production one of my favourite actors, whom I have longed to see on stage more – and so has he longed to be ;) – following his many wonderfully powerful screen performances, Christopher Eccleston. I think I have been spoiled by seeing many superb productions in recent times so I have become quite demanding! Or perhaps Ancient Greek Tragedy does not work for me ;).
The plot surrounds an issue of burial. Brothers Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus and his mother/wife Jocasta, have killed each other in battle. The new King Creon has decreed that Eteocles be respected as a hero, but Polynices condemned as a traitor. This means that the latter cannot be buried. Antigone, sister to both, wishes to bury Polynices. If she does so and is discovered her punishment will be death.
Polly Findlay's production of the play is set in our contemporary time. The male characters are dressed in the main in suits – I was hoping for togas – and Antigone - played by Jodie Whittaker - and sister Ismene – Annabel Scholey – in dresses. The set is a cold/stark/dark room full of offices in which are a multitude of desks, office chairs and numerous staff. It swivels round to reveal an outside wall.
Don Taylor’s play script, adapted from the original by Sophocles, contains numerous orations from both sides of the argument, which to me felt somehow disconnected. I wonder, however, if that was how plays were produced at the time – each actor going to the front of the stage and delivering his part as though in monologue, and then the next had a turn. I don’t mean that the arguments themselves were disengaged or did not follow on from each other, but I felt a lack of connection between the actors. And I honestly can’t put my finger on what wasn’t working for me. Jodie Whittaker did come from the heart. And Christopher Eccleston strongly from the power-crazed Creon – he was believable as a harsh, willful dictator. And I suppose these characters are not supposed to connect so that would make sense. However, I think what was lacking for me is I didn’t feel them really challenging each other. I wanted more! It was as though they were committed to their own sides of the argument, but not to convincing the other person. More pressure and battering needed J. This was a preview – in fact the very first night of previews – so I am sure that will develop. Perhaps on a first night actors are a little careful. I would also say there were a few structural problems in the play itself – again may come from the original author. Numerous supporting cast whom we don’t really get to know – I imagine these are the chorus of Ancient Greek Tragedy. But Creon’s son’s mother is introduced so late in the piece and has only one scene effectively. I missed seeing her relationship with Creon and son. There again, how important was a woman in those days? Antigone herself in fact has a relatively small part considering she is the title role. The main character is Creon and the story is his process and possible transformation. And does he transform? I won’t give the game away. In fact the game wasn’t given away to me either – I was unfortunately in a seat to which Christopher’s back was turned in a crucial scene towards the end so missed the emotion.
There is so much potential in this and I am sure it will be realised as they progress towards the end of the run. I look forward to that J.