It is an ambitious feat to take on the 2400-year old Sophocles classic.To make the text relevant to a modern audience is easier said than done. Although there are seeds of interesting and captivating direction in Greta Kelly and Lorna Dovans’ production of Antigone, the ambitions to take on this script did not quite extend to the production itself.
We enter the Barron to a rectangular stage (technical design by Ailidh Mackichan). There are two rows of chairs along all sides, apart from the far wall, where the chorus is lined up, smartly dressed in black and white - they are journalists, following the tragic events that play out before us, pen in hand. And tragic, they are. Antigone is a textbook example of a Greek Tragedy, with so many deaths that you are tempted yourself to take a life by the end of it - everyone’s doing it. The story follows Antigone (played by Charlie Robertson), whose brothers have both died, one a traitor to the land of Thebes, ruled by Creon. The other is a hero, and is therefore buried with his honour intact, while the other is left for the crows, as decreed by Creon. Antigone isn’t too happy with this turn of events, and decides to bury her brother. This sets in motion a series of events that end not only with her death but with the death of pretty much every royal in Thebes. Whilst the story unfolds so does an intricate discussion of justice, law and order versus righteousness, as well as a woman’s place.
There are lots of themes to dig into, and the script is set up for plenty of action. Yet this production seems unsure of which way to go and what to commit to, so the performance ends up just being a dramatic reading of the text that doesn’t quite capture any of the points that could be made. However, there are some good attempts to make this production interesting--most notably the choice to have the chorus be journalists. This could have been used to emphasize anything from journalism's role in societal debates, to how women who don’t live up to their expected gender role are portrayed in media. Alas it was unclear what the aim was with this choice of staging, so the laid back reporter chorus just ended up halting the story, where they should be delivering a sense of urgency to it and driving it forward.
The performances from all the main characters are energetic and full of potential. Notably Mirrhyn Stephen’s versatile guard, and George Watt’s Creon, whom I actually feel genuine sympathy for as he holds his dead son in his arms. Yet the static staging where the cast is mostly delivering the lines with little action at all, aside from pacing back and forth, makes it a difficult task to make the scenes gripping. The drawn out monologues don’t help much either.
Nonetheless, the script is challenging, and with only four weeks to stage it, the production team and cast have given a valiant effort. So to reiterate the words of the chorus, ‘The pain of experience’s fire is the only way to wisdom’. Although Antigone is an ambitious attempt that falls slightly short, I have no doubt that the team behind it, with more time, will produce great things.