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Antigone review | Stage | The Guardian

Director: Polly Findlay Michael Billington, Thursday 31 May 2012 17.02 BST We are at the hub of a modern seat of power. As we hear the whirring sound of a helicopter overhead, frantic desk-wallahs pass urgent messages ever higher up the chain of command. Finally, everyone gathers round a screen to witness and cheer the capture of a noted enemy of the state.

Inexible authority Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston in Antigone. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

With its echoes of the huddle in the White House situation room during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, this is the opening image of Polly Findlay's stirring new production of Sophocles' Antigone; and, having exerted its grip from the start, it never letsgo. In Findlay's production, which uses the 1986 Don Taylor translation, the defeated Polyneices represents a terrorist threat; and, in her determination to bury her dead brother despite ofcial decree, Antigone implicitly becomes a dangerous subversive. Meanwhile Creon, as head of state, embodies all the certainty, arrogance and myopia of inexible authority. The one problem with putting the playinto modern dress is that it brings with it too many associations. When Creon invokes "the power of the state" we tend to shudder, whereas the play's original spectators would probably have sympathised with his argument that loyalty to city or country supersedes that to family or friends. But Findlay avoids turning the piece into a moral melodrama in which a virtuous Antigone confronts a wicked tyrant. Christopher Eccleston's outstanding Creon becomes the play's tragic centre. He presents us with a charismatic leader steeped in patriarchal tradition and naively trusting in the invulnerability of power: confronted by Antigone and her sister Ismene, he mockingly

observes "these women are neurotic", and when his son Haemon tries to warn him about shifting popular sympathy, he loftily dismisses "the opinions of people in thestreet". Eccleston's Creon is not evil but fatally in thrall, like many modern politicians, to the idea that authority is somehow inviolable. Jodie Whittaker's Antigone is no bright-eyed martyr simply a dogged, determined young woman who believes nothing is more important than the debt we owe to family and the dead. It is a wonderfully single-minded performance, and there is strong support all round. Luke Norris is all uninching truculence as the soldier who reports Polyneices' burial, Jamie Ballard as the prophetic Teiresias has the testy impatience of the truth-teller, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith delivers news of the climactic tragedy with appalled disbelief. But what this production, aided by Soutra Gilmour's set and Dan Jones's sound design, does superbly is usher us into a world of self-regarding power that falls apart through its neglect of instinctive human feeling.

Director: Owen McCafferty Helen Meany The Guardian, Thursday 30 October 2008 With his new version for Prime Cut Productions, Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty joins the ranks of Irish writers - Tom Paulin, Conall Morrison, Seamus Heaney - who have adapted Antigone in recent years. Set in the aftermath of a civil war, Sophocles's tragedy has intense resonance in post-conict Northern Ireland. While McCafferty, who also directs, does not update the action explicitly, his urgent script eloquently achieves the transposition. The Chorus, an Old Man, has some of the most blackly comic lines, as he hauls body bags around the broken-down palace. Swearing at each other in the heat of anger, Antigone and her uncle Creon are awed, all-too-human characters, rather than mouthpieces for a moral argument about the power of the state versus religious allegiance. Ian McElhinney plays Creon as a blunt military man attempting to assert control over the devastated city of Thebes. He struggles to keep his composure in the face of provocation not only from Antigone, but the Old Man and Tiresias. "You are a whore governed by nothing more than greed and lies," he spits at the blind seer. Conict also boils over between Creon and his deant son Haimon, superbly played by Paul Mallon. Barely contained physical aggression is evident throughout; McCafferty seems to be straining against the highly disciplined form of Greek tragedy, in which violence is kept offstage. The resulting tension makes the play brilliantly immediate.

Antigone - Royal Exchange, Manchester

Director: Greg Hersov Alfred Hickling The Guardian, Wednesday 22 October 2008

Two recent productions have raised the bar for Sophoclean interpretations, each exemplifying the radically different approaches you can take to the dramatist. Lucy PitmanWallace's Nottingham Playhouse production of The Burial at Thebes (Seamus Heaney's version of the Antigone legend) was an austere, choric spectacle. Jonathan Kent's urgent, modern-dress Oedipus at the National Theatre, meanwhile, treats attic tragedy as a branch of current affairs. A credit in the programme for Greg Hersov's new production acknowledging Greater Manchester Police for the loan of riot shields makes clear the way things will be heading here. Though the physical location is never identied, its parched and cracked appearance looks conspicuously like the aftermath of a desert storm. Under these conditions, Antigone's crime of performing an illicit burial might be seen less as a seditious challenge to the authority of the state than a criminal misuse of dust. The chief benet of Hersov's approach is its easy accessibility. Creon is portrayed as a consummate modern politician who strides in shaking hands with the audience. And, though Andrew Sheridan's bug-eyed messenger perhaps delivers more laughs than Sophocles intended, Hersov realises that Greek tragedy is never unreservedly tragic. That said, there are aspects of Don Taylor's chatty, colloquial translation that strike one as a little bathetic. The image of Antigone "stubbing her toe against the marble steps of law" sounds like a minor mishap rather than a bruising encounter with inviolable fate; while the description of hell as Persephone's hotel sounds like it has been lifted from the Rough Guide to the Underworld. Matti Houghton uses such informality to her advantage, however, conceiving the heroine as a vulnerable, highly engaging personality. In many cases Antigone's commitment to her cause, admirable though it may be, can seem a little priggish. Houghton, however, gives the impression of an orphaned child whose actions are motivated less by an obsession with martyrdom than a comforting belief in the prospect of rejoining her family on the other side. It befalls Ian Redford's Creon to formulate a rational response to an opponent who does not behave rationally. Far from being an unyielding tyrant, Redford seems remarkably reasonable, though his reference to "special techniques" of interrogation indicates otherwise. But it is precisely this paranoid ability to perceive the enemy everywhere that makes Sophocles seem so unerringly modern.

Antigone - Tron, Glasgow

Director: David Levin Mark Fisher The Guardian, Thursday 18 October 2007 10.10 BST

You know you are watching a good production of a classical tragedy when you nd yourself hoping it will all end happily. That is the case in David Levin's stripped-back staging of the Sophocles play, in which Antigone and her ancee Haemon seem to have a ghting chance of persuading King Creon to allow the burial of her brother Polyneices instead of leaving the corpse to the ies. Played by the youthful Hannah Donaldson and David Ashwood, the couple are no match in authority for Jimmy Yuill's king, Haemon's father. Yet with right on their side, they let us The chorus as a trio of gossiping old men ... Photograph: Richard Campbell imagine they can beat the odds. In this way, Levin, a former artistic director of the Habima National Theatre in Israel and now resident in Edinburgh, presents the play as a conict between righteous youth and stubborn old age. When Donaldson confronts Yuill she is like a pesky prefect talking to an unyielding headmaster, both characters keeping on the right side of decorum until rage gets the better of them. In one of the most striking moments, Ashwood looks as if he is about to assault the king, but instead breaks down in tears, hugging his dad like the helpless child he is. It is a chilling statement about how powerlessness can lead to suicidal despair. However, the evening belongs to Yuill, who gives us a King Creon relaxed in the certain knowledge of his power. His delivery is measured and moderate, showing a patrician refusal to break sweat. With his Trotskyesque grey beard, he speaks to the people via black-and-white TV monitors like an avuncular Soviet dictator whose excesses have yet to be found out. Surrounded by yes men, he could be any modern-day leader detached from political realities by a toadying cabinet. In this production, he is the one with the furthest to fall and whom the tragedy hits hardest. Played poor-theatre style on an open set framed by copper pipes, the script is given a crisp translation by Levin, encouraging a brisk, conversational mode of delivery. He presents the chorus as a trio of gossiping old men. But he also directs Donaldson to underplay the text almost to the point of banality, which makes it seem less like Antigone's tragedy than Creon's. It is a distinctive interpretation but, for all the production's urgency, one that makes you more conscious of the clever directorial choices than of the drama's beating heart.

Director: Jacquelyn Honess-Martin Lyn Gardner The Guardian, Saturday 10 September 2005 23.58 BST History stalks the old Council Chambers on the Walworth Road. Even the furniture, including the church-like pews, is listed in a space that has served both as council meeting room and coroner's court. It is alive with the dead, and now there is a new arrival: the erce ghost of teenage martyr Antigone, who believes so passionately that her chosen path is the right one that she dees the law and brings tragedy tumbling down on herself and those she loves. There never was, nor will be, a time when Antigone is not a play for the here and now. Alexa Reid's installation sets the tone: as you walk into the chamber you pass a writhing woman bound and chained. When you leave the woman has made a Houdini-like disappearance. Antigone is a play driven by the passion of youthful certainty and it is produced here by a new young company, Insite. Director Jacquelyn Honess-Martin's production responds to the space well. There is something very right about seeing this play - pitting the rights of the individual against the concerns of the state - in a space that has witnessed so many debates, heard the stories of those whose lives were snuffed out. Saucers of light add to the atmosphere as natural light fades and day passes to night, life to death. But Honess-Martin, the director, has not been tough enough on Honess-Martin, the writer. This version is clear and direct, but it never crackles with poetry or passion. Some of the performances are uncertain, too, although you believe in the inner hurricane of Bridget Collins's Antigone, and Francis Kelly persuades as Creon, the ruler knowing he will live for ever with the consequences of his failure.

Alfred Hickling The Guardian, Friday 10 October 2003 02.55 BST As the greatest ancient argument against abuses of power, Antigone has an uncanny knack of mirroring the headlines. Productions have been mounted in protest against nazism, communism and apartheid; this version targets issues closer to home. Having just emerged from a brief, one-sided and spurious war, Barrie Rutter's Creon radiates a familiar air of saintly self-satisfaction. He toys with the buttons of his elegant suit as he announces the elimination of the "terrorist" threat. "We taught them shock and awe," he intones. No doubt he sexed up the evidence rst. Blake Morrison's adaptation makes a thorough job of sexing up Sophocles. Sally Carman's Antigone hurls invective at her uncle Creon for "shafting our family"; he in turn rails at Polyneices for having "buggered off and married some foreign tart". It's not so much the rhetoric of ancient Thebes as the way you hear scores being settled in Shipley. But it has always been Northern Broadsides' forte to nd the common thread between at-vowelled aggression and the classical tradition. It is not subtle, and there are moments when Sophocles's exquisite equilibrium is overturned. The dramatic balance depends on Creon being politically wrong-headed but humanly fallible, though Rutter leaves it until the last moment before revealing a shred of self-doubt. When it comes, however, it is overwhelming - an animal roar that makes the rafters rattle in sympathy. An all-male choral septet adds lusty musical comment and makes reference to the play's numeric signicance - one is reminded of the seven gates of Thebes. Designers Giuseppe Belli and Emma Norrington-Binns evoke the sort of 1940s utilitarian look that might have been purchased with coupons, while the Northern Broadsides' approach to light and shade remains admirably consistent - they bring the lights up at the beginning and turn them off when they've nished. Morrison's Antigone may not be as magisterial as Sophocles's, nor as objective as Anhouil's. But it's classical tragedy that speaks our language. If you live within range of Ilkley Moor, that is.

Search for the soul of Antigone

Even Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney didn't know how to begin his translation of Sophocles. Then inspiration struck ...
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 November 2005

A friend of mine loved to describe a cartoon he had either seen or imagined. The setting is an Elizabethan alehouse, with the Globe Theatre just visible through an open door. In one corner, pale forehead in his left hand, poised quill in the right, sits a well-known contender from Stratford; in an opposite corner, tankard clasped in both his hands, sits a resentful Ben Jonson, with a "thinks" cloud over his head that reads: "Of course, of course. Will doing the work of the imagination." It was a good spin on Yeats's famous phrase and a good illustration of Jonson's famous competitiveness, but not so good as a take on Shakespeare. By Jonson's own admission, there was nothing voulu about Shakespeare's lines: his imagination was constantly in spate and as far as Jonson was concerned, it owed altogether too copiously. Shakespeare, he thought, would have been better employed revising his stuff than reeling it out. Shakespeare, as far as we know, didn't need to think twice. The problem identied once upon a time by Philip Larkin - of the discrepancy that often exists between the poems we would wish to write and the poems we are given to write - doesn't appear to have existed for him. According to the actors: "His mind and his hand went together." He possessed in abundance that "boldness in face of the blank sheet" which Pasternak regarded as the sine qua non of genius. It is probably the sine qua non of translation also, especially the translation of poetry or poetic drama. Getting started on a verse translation is in some respects not all that different from original composition. In order to get the project under way, there has to be a note to which the lines, and especially the rst lines, can be tuned. Until this register is established, your words may well constitute a fair rendition of the paraphrasable meaning, but they cannot induce the necessary sensation of being on the right track, musically and rhythmically. Readers recognise this rightness too. They take vicarious pleasure in the promise of openings such as "It is an ancient mariner/ And he stoppeth one of three" or "I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree". In such cases, you know that when the poets wrote the lines, they could have said what DH Lawrence says at the start of his Song of a Man Who Has Come Through: "Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me ..." Or, to put it another way, and in the words of a different poet, the gift of the right opening helps the poet and the translator of poetry to escape from what Robert Lowell called "the glassy bowing and scraping of [the] will" into the "maze of composition", led by an "incomparable wandering voice". When Lowell wrote that, he was thinking of Racine, whom he called a "man of craft", but one who was helped beyond craft when he found a voice for the heroine of his 17thcentury tragedy, Phdre. At that point, the poetry he wished to write suddenly became the poetry he was given to write, so he was up and away.

There's no comparison between Racine's French classic and the job of translation I did on Sophocles' Antigone a couple of years ago - a commission from the Abbey Theatre - but there was at least this one thing in common: I was able to start into the maze of composition only after I heard an incomparable voice. Until that happened, the head was in one hand and the pen in the other, but there was nothing doing. The sheet stayed blank. One consideration, however, was weighing heavily in favour of a new start. Early in 2003 we were watching a leader, a Creon gure if ever there was one: a law and order bossman trying to boss the nations of the world into uncritical agreement with his edicts in much the same way as Creon tries to boss the Chorus of compliant Thebans into conformity with his. With the White House and the Pentagon in cahoots, determined to bring the rest of us into line over Iraq, the passion and protest of an Antigone were all of a sudden as vital as oxygen masks. For weeks, I had been reading desultorily about the play in various essays and introductions, my eyes glazing over as again and again the familiar topics came swimming up: individual conscience versus civil power, men A found pitch' ... Jodie McNee is Antigone in The Burial at Thebes, versus women, Nottingham Playhouse. the domestic versus the public sphere, the relevance of the action at different times of crisis in France, in Russia, in Poland, in Northern Ireland - of course, of course, of course. But why do it again? Indeed, how do it again, if there was no tuning fork? I've written elsewhere what happened next: all of a sudden I heard a note being struck in my head and inside seconds I had the pen in my hand and had done a number of the opening lines. Purchase on a language, a condence amounting almost to a carelessness, a found pitch - all arrived in a breath. "Not I, not I," I could have exclaimed, "but the wind that blows through me." What had got me going was not study of the text or of the criticism surrounding it, but the words and rhythms of another work entirely. The tuning fork sounded when I remembered the opening lines of one of the most famous poems in the Irish language, Ebhlin Dhubh N Chonaill's Caoineadh Airt U Laoghaire/ Lament for Art O'Leary. My love and my delight, The day I saw you rst Beside the markethouse I had eyes for nothing else And love for none but you

This stricken, urgent keen for a murdered husband, beaten out in line after three-stressed line, gave me the note I needed for the anxious, cornered Antigone at the start of the play. The wife in desperation provided a register for the desperate sister. Inside a couple of minutes I had the rst sample lines to show to the artistic director: Ismene, quick, come here! What's to become of us? Why are we always the ones? From that point onwards, I had a purchase on the actual writing, and took pleasure in it. Years before I'd made a version of Sophocles' Philoctetes, but mostly in blank verse, which came more and more to feel just like a container for the sense: there was never any great job of fashioning being done. Whereas in the case of Antigone, as a result of that opening donn, I had the idea of making different metrical provisions for different characters and this meant a far greater sensation of working at a verbal face. There was an ongoing line-by-line, eye-to-hand engagement with the material. First came the threestress line for exchanges between the sisters, then a surge into more or less Anglo-Saxon metre for the chorus, then another change of register into blank verse, but blank verse that was dramatic and suited to the character of Creon rather than simply a metronome. Antigone is poetic drama, but commentary and analysis had turned it into political allegory. What I wanted to point up was the anthropological dimension of Sophocles' work: I didn't want the production to end up as just another opportunistic commentary on the Iraq adventure, and that was why I changed the title. I called my version The Burial at Thebes partly because "burial" signals immediately to a new audience what the central concern of the play is going to be: a contest involving the rights of the dead and the laws of the land. But mainly I changed the title because "burial" is also a word that has not yet been divorced from primal reality. It still recalls to us our destiny as members of a mortal species and reminds us, however subliminally, of the need to acknowledge and allow the essential dignity of every human creature. It implies respect for the cofn, wherever it is being carried, whatever ag is draped over it, whatever community is crying out alongside it. It emphasises, in other words, what Hegel emphasised about Antigone, those "Instinctive Powers of Feeling, Love and Kinship" which authority must honour and obey if it is not to turn callous.